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Vital Signs

Medical students continue to reach out to Haiti

By Krupa Patel

These Haitians are waiting for care at a clinic run by GHESKIO.

The contrast was stark. One evening this past May, Dartmouth students enjoyed delicious food and live music and dance in Hanover, N.H., while 2,000 miles away in Haiti, hundreds of thousands of people struggled to find food, shelter, and basic medical care.

But there was a direct tie between the two settings. It was four months since an earthquake had left Haiti in ruins, but Dartmouth students were continuing to seek ways to help the ravaged nation. That evening, the help came in the form of the fourth annual Dance for a Dream, a DMS-led fund-raiser.

Local: The evening featured an auction of Haitian artwork, the sale of handmade Haitian candles, a raffle with prizes donated by local businesses, and toe-tapping performances by seven student music and dance groups.

This year's Dance for a Dream proceeds went to an organization based in Port-au-Prince called GHESKIO. The acronym is derived from the French version of the group's name: Haitian Study Group on Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections. "We chose to support GHESKIO," says Stephanie Rolin, the M.D. student who spearheaded the fund-raiser, "because they have a lot of rebuilding to do."

GHESKIO has managed to "embrace what is . . . necessary to provide education, care, housing, shelter, medical care for this population," explains Dr. Peter Wright, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth. He has worked with GHESKIO since 1990 and spoke at Dance for a Dream about conditions in Haiti. "There is little question," he says, "that Dartmouth is very committed to . . . doing something long-term in Haiti."

"Just to see how motivated people are to help out in Haiti . . . is a great thing," agrees Daphnée Charles, one of two Haitian undergraduates admitted to Dartmouth after the disaster. She also spoke at Dance for a Dream, as did the other Haitian undergrad, Ronel Lefranc.

Among the performers at the event were DMS's a cappella group, the Dermatones; an Irish dance troupe; a bluegrass group; a contemporary dance ensemble; and a group that melds South Asian dance with hip-hop. Dartmouth officials estimate that students have collectively raised over $1.5 million for the Haiti relief effort—including $5,000 from Dance for a Dream.

Dartmouth is very committed to . . . doing something long-term.

The funds will be put to good use. "GHESKIO is responsible for providing HIV care . . . for about 40% of the people in the country that are getting such care," Wright says. In fact, GHESKIO, which was founded in 1982, was the first organization in the world dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS. After the quake, the group set up refugee camps and field hospitals, in addition to continuing to care for AIDS patients.

Trial: Two months after Dance for a Dream, Rolin flew to Haiti, thanks to a Fogarty Grant from the National Institutes of Health, to work for six weeks at GHESKIO on a multinational trial aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Accompanying her were Wright and another DMS student and Fogarty Grant recipient, Jody Epstein, a certified lactation consultant.

Such contributions of time and money may seem minuscule compared to the massive needs in Haiti. But their significance, says Wright, "is really the effort . . . and what that means."

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