Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Helping Haiti heal

Washington University professor Lora Iannotti survives earthquake and assists doctors in aftermath

(Photos courtesy of Lora Iannotti)

(Photos courtesy of Lora Iannotti)

While in Haiti conducting research, Washington University Assistant Professor of Social Work Lora Iannotti was caught in the earthquake that left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

On Jan. 10, Iannotti, a nutrition and public health expert in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, traveled to Haiti to research the effectiveness of “Medika Mamba,” a peanut butter-based food developed by the St. Louis organization Meds and Foods for Kids for children’s malnutrition. Her work was interrupted two days later by the devastating earthquake.

In addition to working with Meds and Foods for Kids, Iannotti was also working with the Children’s Nutritional Program of Haiti to find preventative measures for malnutrition, particularly for children under the age of 5. Her team was stationed in Leogane, Haiti, which was closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than the capital, Port-au-Prince.

“We were very lucky because we were in Port-au-Prince that day,” Iannotti said. “Our guest house did fall and the apartments of the people I was working with were demolished, so we were very fortunate that we were in a restaurant, so we just ran to a parking lot outside when the earthquake hit.”

After the quake, Iannotti said her team worked with Doctors Without Borders before heading back to Leogane, where 80 to 90 percent of the buildings had come down.

“There was a great deal of devastation there, and it has really been in this past week that relief efforts have made it to Leogane,” she said. “When we were there, there were two Haitian doctors performing what were literally miracles, and people were streaming in with catastrophic injuries. All they had were cardboard boxes, water, and gauze—and these two doctors were doing the best they could with very little.”

Iannotti, who has been working in Haiti for several years, said that there are different stages in the recuperation of an area after a disaster like this. She said that the immediate relief effort is incredibly important, but as time passes the more pressing issue is preventing infection and disease among the population, particularly diarrheal infections.

“There are going to be huge problems,” Iannotti said. “They are constructing latrines right now, but they are very poor and they are living on the streets or in temporary camps. There are thousands of people sharing latrines.”

Children may face the biggest risk in Haiti after the earthquake. Iannotti said, “A big misconception is that drinking water is the most important thing. Drinking water is important, but in this second phase you really need clean water for washing to prevent the diseases.”

Although students donating to the cause are essential in the relief effort, Iannotti believes that people tend not to pay attention to where their charity money is going.

“There’s a tendency among students to want to give to the relief efforts, but I think it’s extremely important that people give to those that will be there in the long term, such as Meds and Food for Kids, and Save the Children,” she said. “Those are groups that will be in Haiti for a long time and will be there for a long time and that’s what is needed— sustained support. Things were improving in Haiti, we just need to get them back to that track.”

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878