Haiti Earthquake Response Must Protect Health and Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights expresses deep concern for the struggling survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and profound sympathy for the families of the as yet uncounted victims. Clearly, providing relief and protection for survivors must be the immediate priority for the international community. PHR fully supports these efforts and has encouraged health professionals to be in contact with organizations that are coordinating direct provision of medical assistance.But it is important even at this early stage in the response to ensure that, as aid is delivered in the coming weeks and months, it is provided in a way that helps to address underlying structural problems and contributes to the long-term reduction in the vulnerabilities which have made this natural disaster even more destructive.The long history of neglect and inequality in Haiti has resulted in a society lacking an effective social support system and a health system which fails to provide adequate care for the majority of impoverished citizens. The flood of humanitarian aid and medical supplies now entering Haiti must be distributed in a coordinated way and with recognition of the rights of individuals to non-discrimination and participation in the process. These initial efforts to restart a functioning health system can lay the foundation for a future system that is grounded in the right to health, which has so long been denied the Haitian people.Aid must be provided in a fully accountable and transparent manner by the UN and the NGO humanitarian community, establishing a precedent for the system that will eventually be rebuilt. Participation by the affected populations in determining where and how relief and services should be focused will also introduce an important element of the right to health needed for the reconstructed system.As relief efforts proceed, it is also essential that the U.S. government immediately provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians currently in the United States. We welcome the decision of the Obama Administration to halt the pending deportation of some 30, 000 Haitians.We believe that, given Haiti’s lack of capacity to safely accept any returnees at this time, the Administration should take the next step and grant TPS on an expedited basis to Haitians who are in the US at this time and are in need of protection. Granting TPS will allow Haiti to focus on recovery and disaster relief without the additional difficulty of dealing with potentially homeless returnees.During the coming months, tremendous attention will be focused on Haiti and efforts to address pressing needs for food, housing, and medical care. Once the immediate crisis has passed, it is vital that Haiti not be allowed to slip back into its historic patterns of discrimination, inequality, and extreme vulnerability for a great majority of its citizens.The international community, both governmental and non-governmental, must be committed to monitoring the situation in the years ahead to ensure that a rebuilt Haitian society is built on a foundation of human rights and respect for human dignity.

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