WASHINGTON, DC — When the earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12, Rick Santos, president and CEO of IMA World Health, and two IMA colleagues were trapped under the rubble of the Hotel Montana in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince for two days. They weren’t sure they would make it out. You can hear Mr. Santos describe the experience in this video.
Last night, I heard Mr. Santos recount his terrifying experience in the context of the larger tragedy of Haiti in much happier surroundings — the 50th anniversary of IMA in a gala event at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington that focused on Haiti (IMA also works in the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Togo).
The organization was founded as Interchurch Medical Assistance in New York in 1960 by six church relief agencies with a mission to procure and distribute medicines and supplies to clinics in developing countries. In 1993, IMA developed the Medicine Box®, a 70-pound cardboard box containing essential medical products. The Medicine Box — which typically includes aspirin, nutritional supplements, antibiotics and first aid items — was designed to treat the common illnesses of 1,000 people for 2-3 months when put in a rural clinic.
The Medicine Box tweaked IMA’s mission statement to focus on providing both products and services instead of just supplies. Following the launch of the Medicine Box, IMA developed a program to treat Onchocerciasis (River Blindness) in Tanzania through the distribution of Mectizan. This program resulted in the establishment of IMA’s first field office in Tanzania in 1997 by Charles Franzén, IMA’s first country representative.
Last night, socially conscious retailer TOMS Shoes started the evening with an announcement that it is donating 500,000 pairs of shoes to IMA over the next six months for children in Haiti as part of a drug administration program to treat and prevent intestinal worms. TOMS was founded in 2006 with the mission of matching every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need, and has just handed out its millionth pair of shoes.
Paul Weisenfeld, senior deputy assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development and, until recently, the coordinator of USAID’s Haiti Task Force, reported the sad truth that there are still 1 million homeless people in Haiti, a country of 9 million. And the biggest impediment to resettling them is the rubble. He said 1.2 million cubic meters have already been cleared but much remains, and “it will be with us for awhile.”
But the news is not all bad: In a recent survey of the housing stock of Port-au-Prince, it was determined that half of it is structurally sound. And, inexplicably, the incidence of waterborne disease has gone down from what it was from pre-earthquake levels.
The master of ceremonies of the 50th anniversary celebration was Gary Tuchman, CNN national correspondent who has covered many of the major stories of recent years, including the earthquake in Haiti, where he has been in Haiti five times this year. Tuchman is a huge fan of IMA that, he said, does life-saving work while he is “just a journalist.”
IMA World Health is a member of the Global Health Council as are four of the five sponsors of the event — Abbott, BD, Johnson & Johnson and Vestergaard Frandsen. The Council is proud to have IMA as a member and offers Mr. Santos and his staff our best wishes for the second 50 years.