When it comes to international aid, attempts to improve public health, assist in development, and respond to natural disasters can be thwarted by political strife and global economic inequality that stretch far beyond the control of the individuals whose lives are at stake. In this context, expertise in the culture, history, and language of a country, in addition to scientific and medical knowledge, can go a long way toward improving the potential success of public health policies and interventions.
The cholera epidemic that spread in Haiti nine months after the 2010 earthquake, for example, was started by U.N. peacekeeping forces, but only six years after its initial outbreak did the U.N. admit it played a role in the affair. In an effort to understand how deeply-rooted assumptions about a culture can have significant impact on public health policy, Lesley S. Curtis, Vital’s Editor-in-Chief and scholar of Haitian Studies, interviewed Jonathan M. Katz, the journalist whose investigation first revealed the U.N.’s responsibility for the epidemic and the author of The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Continue reading →