Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Greenville, S.C., mission helps disabled people in Haiti

From The Greenville News in S.C.:

Haiti’s disabled, already living in the shadows, are likely to suffer and die as a result of the catastrophic earthquake at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.

“The most vulnerable are people with disabilities,” said Ron Nabors, chief executive officer of the Greenville-based Christian Blind Mission. “The reason you hardly see any people with disabilities in those pictures of people waiting in line for food or water is that they can’t get around.”

The disabled suffer the highest death rate in natural disasters, especially earthquakes, he said. Moreover, for every child killed in a disaster like this, three more become disabled.

“We expect the disability rate to soar from the earthquake,” Nabors said. “This disaster, in my opinion, will create more disability than any other in the last 100 years, given the nature of it.”

The mission works with local partners in impoverished countries to prevent and treat disabilities, including blindness, deafness, cleft lip, club foot, amputations and other conditions, Nabors said. Last year, it performed more than 1 million surgeries in 100 countries.

The organization also helps disabled people support themselves by providing education, rehabilitation and loans, he said.

The agency has 50,000 clients in Haiti, where it’s been operating for 30 years, and five partner programs in Port-au-Prince alone, Nabors said. So far, no one has heard from a clinic for mentally impaired children or a school for the deaf, he said.

“We are deeply concerned about where those children may be,” he said.

Grace Children’s Hospital, which primarily focuses on tuberculosis and eye care, is still standing and in pretty good shape, he said. And University Hospital, whose eye care is supported by the blind mission, is functioning and handling a lot of trauma cases.

Now, the organization is sending emergency teams to Haiti to tackle immediate medical needs and help in long-term efforts to rebuild the infrastructure. One team trying to get to Haiti was stuck for days in the Dominican Republic, Nabors said. Equipped with a satellite phone, the agency hopes to get more regular updates soon, he said.

Its most pressing call is helping the disabled. Those who survive the initial disaster typically lose the wheelchairs, canes, and artificial limbs in the destruction, if they had them to begin with, he said, leaving them unable to flee impending danger and often helpless. Those who can’t see don’t know where to run.

Even under normal circumstances, the disabled in Third World countries often live in inhumane conditions with limited support from family, church, or community, he said.

“In developing countries, these people are literally hidden away — in many cases considered a curse,” Nabors said. “But a lot of times, a person with disability can be returned to a productive member of the community through medical intervention, such as removing cataracts, correcting club foot or providing prosthetics.”

Nabors said the blind mission expects the number of people seeking medical services at its hospital will increase tenfold.

But without enough doctors, equipment and medical supplies, care can be primitive.