COMMENTARY:

Helping Haiti’s Elders

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 25 January 2010

Old people tend to suffer disproportionately during disasters, and are less capable of fending for themselves in the aftermath. I suspect they also tend to be disproportionately overlooked by even the most well-meaning relief efforts.

A week ago, I posted excerpts from the heartbreaking story put out by the AP, about a group of old, infirm Haitians lying–and dying–in the streets outside their destroyed nursing home in Port-au-Prince. According to a follow-up story in the Washington Post, they finally got some attention from relief workers on Saturday, more than 10 days after the earthquake took place. According to the post, the first group to visit the elders was “a team of 13 doctors funded by the Venezuelan government,” who ”evaluated the patients, changed dressings on their wounds and promised to return the next day.”

Actually, HelpAge International, the international NGO that deals with the needs of older people around the world, appears to have been on the ground helping the patients several days prior to the Post report. Although its office in Port-Au-Prince was badly damaged, HelpAge announced last Friday:

Medical staff from our partner CARPA have been examining patients in the Municipal Nursing Home in Bel Air, Port-au-Prince. CARPA doctors also visited the UN hospital to collect free medical supplies which will be given out today.

Currently around 600 temporary living camps have been set up in the Haitian capital. HelpAge is aiming to support ten of them, including one near the Municipal Nursing Home. Two of our emergencies team, Sarah Packwood and Margaret Chilcot, visited the home yesterday with two CARPA doctors to deliver medicines including antibiotics. They also brought tarpaulins which they tied to the branches of trees to provide the older people with some shade from the tropical heat.’

Margaret Chilcott said, “We will hire someone to do some cooking and get water points set up. We can see that more caregivers are urgently needed.I saw one man not eating despite his hunger, apparently because he couldn’t eat without help.

We are now responding and trying to get more medical supplies to the older people in the home. We are able to get hold of supplies, but the problem is that delivery and distribution mechanisms are extremely weak.There are also large numbers of destitute people all around the home which makes it difficult to deliver specifically to the care home residents.

About 800,000 Haitians are over 60, and many of them live in extreme poverty even under normal circumstances. Old people tend to suffer disproportionately during disasters, and are less capable of fending for themselves in the aftermath. I suspect they also tend to be disproportionately overlooked by even the most well-meaning relief efforts.

HelpAge is a rare exception. Last week they entered into a partnership with the AARP Foundation to gain more support for their work. “HelpAge has on-the-ground experience in Haiti and is the only international relief agency that focuses on the unique needs of older people in an emergency,” said AARP CEO Barry Rand.

You can donate to HelpAge’s work in Haiti via their Haiti Emergency Fund at HelpAge USA or through AARP Foundation’s Haiti Relief Fund.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found at JamesRidgeway.net and at his newest web site, Solitary Watch.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on January 26, 2010.