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Lack of Health Care, Infrastructure and Basic Sanitation will Hinder Haiti’s Recovery, MU Experts Say

Pre-existing poverty compounds devastation of earthquake in Haiti

Jan. 15, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Emily Martin,, (573) 882-3346

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

Glenda Nickell, clinical instructor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing

Glenda Nickell, clinical instructor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The reports of devastation in Haiti continue to increase, and University of Missouri health experts say the people of Haiti will face public health issues, including the spread of infectious diseases, lack of basic necessities and mental health trauma, for months to come.

The earthquake has intensified pre-existing public health issues in Haiti, said Lynelle Phillips, field placement coordinator and faculty member in the Master of Public Health Program. Phillips, an expert on public health and communicable diseases, says that there is an even greater need for basic health care, safety, clean water, food and supplies.

“Haitians already struggle to manage infectious diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis, which are almost non-existent in the U.S., because they lack vaccines and basic health care,” Phillips said. The recent disaster adds a rapid loss of infrastructure and resources, including basic sanitation and clean water. Injuries will need to be treated in a timely manner, but a lack of health care professionals will make this difficult.”  

The earthquake’s death toll has left numerous bodies unattended. With temperatures at more than 90 degrees, an increased risk of waterborne illness and disease outbreaks, such as diarrheal disease and contaminated air issues exists, Phillips said.

Mental health issues are another concern for Haitians, said Glenda Nickell, clinical instructor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. Nickell, an expert on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, says that there is and will continue to be a great need for mental health care workers to help victims.

“Some people will be in crisis right away; many will be suicidal,” Nickell said. “Relief workers will have to consider these issues along with physical safety. Once people are physically safe – with a roof over their heads and in a place they feel relatively secure – then other issues will surface. To prevent the development of major mental health disorders, people need to have a realistic perception of what happened, adequate situational support and sufficient coping skills.”

Nickell coordinates the mental health and community health nursing courses at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. She has worked directly with people of all ages with mental illnesses and has experience in the administration of private and public mental health facilities.

Phillips is an adjunct faculty member at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. She has worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in areas including environmental health, immunization and tuberculosis control. Phillips also worked at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services as a nurse consultant and CDC field assignee to the tuberculosis program.