Haiti—The Failed State in the Americas

The foreign policy rage of the past few years has been the failed state—Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, maybe even Iraq. But we in the Americas have one right in our backyard—Haiti.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It has 8.5 million people. The Gross National Income is $380 per capita. The minimum wage is $1.70 per day. (All figures are from the UN or the World Bank.)

Educational indices are equally depressing. About half of the children are enrolled in primary school: 49% of boys and 46% of girls. In secondary school the picture is worse: 21% of boys and 20% of girls are enrolled.

Health indices are poor. The contraceptive prevalence rate is 27% for any method, modern or not, and the birthrate is 3.8 (it rises to 7.0 in some areas). Maternal mortality is 680/100,000 live births and the infant mortality is 60/1000 births. These figures are the equivalent of Africa, as is the life expectancy which is 51 for males and 53 for females. The HIV prevalence rate is 6.1%.

The IPPF Member Association, Profamil, operates three clinics and sees over 100,000 visits a year on a budget of about $800,000. The contraceptive mix is unique. The condom is the number one method dispensed at the clinics, with 44% of patients opting for condoms. This is because of the long-standing push by the government to stop the HIV epidemic. Condoms are plentiful and free. Depo-Provera is the number two method at 30% and the Pill is a distant third at 10%. This pattern is in contrast to most Third World countries where sterilization is the number one method, followed by the IUD, Depo or the Pill.

We tend to hear about Haiti when another disaster strikes. Hurricane Alpha hit last week, wreaking devastation that was under-reported compared to other hurricane damage here and in other countries recently. A UN peacekeeper was killed last week. There are over 7,000 UN peacekeepers in Haiti trying to keep order. The Presidential elections scheduled for November are likely to be postponed. There are 32 candidates for President. One is an expat named Dumarsais Simeus, a multi-millionaire Texan, whose parents saved to send him to the USA and to Howard University. He now owns a huge food processing company and has brought his 11 siblings to the USA for university.

Mr. Simeus is a prime example of the Haitian brain drain. This is a phenomenon common to the Third World, but it has hit Haiti the hardest. Haiti has the highest percentage—84%—of college graduates living abroad. The next highest is Ghana at 47%. How can a country develop, govern itself, educate its people, provide health care if its most educated citizens live abroad in Miami and New York? It can’t, pure and simple.

Western Governments have agreed on a plan to provide security, hold the elections and provide more assistance for the educational and health care systems. There are plans to provide more potable water, usable roads and schoolbooks. Haiti must be made safe so that its educated citizens can return. I have heard testimony that they want to, but it has to be safe. I have also heard first-hand that the Profamil clinics have difficulty hiring and retaining skilled medical staff—no surprise when they are in such demand and they can earn much more abroad. New York-area hospitals are full of Haitian staff. Perhaps we in this country should look with Haiti and try to balance the system, so that we preserve our immigration opportunities while not draining permanently our Third World neighbors who need those educated citizens at home.

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