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Louise Ivers leads earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. Right, Louise Ivers cares for a young patient at a clinic in Haiti
After escaping a collapsing building during Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, Louise Ivers, MD, MPH, immediately began caring for injured survivors as the sole physician at a makeshift clinic in Port-au-Prince, treating hundreds of patients with any resources she could find. She did not sleep until help began arriving more than 48 hours later.
“Even under the most stressful conditions one could encounter, Dr. Ivers displayed the heroic qualities of a dedicated physician leader,” wrote long-time colleague Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, chief of the BWH Division of Global Health Equity and co-founder of Partners In Health (PIH). “She provided care that only the most skilled of physicians could provide, and she maintained her composure at a time when it would seem impossible to do so, displaying a compassionate, selfless drive to help those most in need.”
For her leadership and compassion in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake and for seven years of devotion to working side by side with the country’s poor, Ivers will be honored next month with the 2010 Thomson Compassionate Leadership Award at BWH.
“To me, one of the most important words describing this award is compassion, and I am humbled to receive this recognition,” said Ivers, a physician in the BWH Division of Global Health Equity and director of PIH, Haiti. “Compassionate leadership is about solidarity and sharing of suffering. That’s what I try do every day, and that’s what PIH does in Haiti and elsewhere in the world.”
It was only by chance that Ivers came to work in Haiti seven years ago. Originally assigned to a PIH program in Peru, Ivers, who trained in infectious disease, was asked at the last minute to depart instead for Haiti, where the organization needed an infectious disease specialist to scale up its work in HIV and TB care and prevention. Ivers was delighted to go.
“Haiti is such a warm place—warm of spirit, generous of spirit and with a fighting spirit,” said the Dublin-born physician who has become fluent in Haitian-Creole.
Ivers conducted many home visits to patients, managed programs and taught and mentored students. In 2006, she became the country’s director of PIH’s HIV Equity Initiative—one of the first programs of its kind in the world to provide treatment and prevention services to sick and destitute patients.
The program she heads now treats more than 2,000 HIV/AIDS patients and monitors 6,000. She also has been central to PIH’s success in nearly eliminating the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus among its patients there. Today, transmission rates are on par with those typically found in the developed world and far lower than usually found in poor countries.
“Those of us who know and care about Haiti understand the emotional and physical toll it exacts on those working there every day,” Farmer said. “It takes a remarkable individual—and I cannot underscore this enough—to dedicate herself with such complete commitment to alleviating health disparities in this part of the world. Her leadership in this field is extraordinary.”
Ivers is the principal investigator for research documenting the impact of targeted food assistance on the health of HIV/AIDS patients in Haiti, a critical component of PIH’s approach to care.
At the moment the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, Ivers was at a meeting of the World Food Program in a United Nations building in the country’s capital city. In the months since the tragedy, her work has shifted focus. She moved from rural St. Marc to Port-au-Prince and works mainly with the settlement camps where thousands of displaced people live. She and her team provide health care, accompany patients and facilitate partnerships with the Haitian government, the U.S. Military, Red Cross and other organizations to bring resources and services to people desperately in need.
She and her colleagues of Zanmi Lasante (PIH’s flagship medical complex in Haiti) also help staff the night shift at the General Hospital which was nearly leveled during the earthquake. Her days are long, and the work is difficult, but Ivers remains hopeful.
“Despite the tragedy of its history and even the earthquake, the Haitian people are really full of hope, and that’s a contagious feeling,” Ivers said. “The optimism I have comes from the fact that Haitians never give up. Therefore, who are we to give up on them?”
At a recent meeting of camp coordinators in one of the internally displaced persons camps, the community presented her with a plaque and a painting in gratitude for her tireless work on their behalf as their doctor, advocate and voice. “For a community of people who are homeless, have suffered enormous losses of family, friends and livelihoods to place such value on Louise’s work that they felt it merited creating an award is no small honor,” according to Kim Cullen of BWH and Ali Lutz, Joan VanWassenhove, Cate Oswald and Kate Greene, of PIH, who nominated Ivers for the Thomson Compassionate Leadership Award.
“There will soon be a day when not one TV camera remains in Haiti, and Port-au-Prince will still be in ruins,” wrote her nominators. “Louise will still be there, as she has all along.”
Ivers attributes all of her accomplishments to her team, the Haitian residents who work with Zanmi Lasante and her PIH and BWH colleagues in Boston.
“I work in Haiti because of the team. I can only do my work because of them,” Ivers said. “They motivate me, they inspire me, they give me hope for the future of Haiti.”
In post-earthquake Haiti, Louise Ivers works mainly with settlement camps where thousands of displaced people live.
Thomson Compassionate Leadership and Scholarship Awards
June 2, at 3 p.m., in the Bornstein Amphitheater
Reception to follow in the PBB Rotunda