Q + A with Board Member Dr. Elizabeth Greig
Dr. Elizabeth Greig is a Project Medishare board member, who first became involved with Project Medishare while attending medical school at the University of Miami, traveling to the Central Plateau with a student group from CaneShare. “The morning I was supposed to leave, I incorrectly set my alarm and woke up, no joke, an hour before the flight was supposed to take off. I said there is no way I’m making an international flight in the next hour. Dr. Green, who I had never met, took the phone out of someone’s hand and said, “No problem you can make it.” And I thought, “Well, that’s crazy, that’s not going to happen.” Sure enough, I made the plane just fine, and Dr. Green has been telling me I can do things that seem totally nuts ever since.”
In 2011, Dr. Greig’s family graciously donated the funds necessary to build our first maternity center in Marmont. She currently works as a Medical Director for the University of Miami’s UHealth system. Read our Q+A with Dr. Greig below to learn about her passion for Haiti and global health.
What was your first impression of Haiti like?
Haiti is a shock. I had been to many other impoverished places before, and worked in a variety of capacities. But the depth of need in Haiti is quite a sucker punch when you first see it in person.
When I arrived for the first time, I got out of that 8 hour roller coaster ride in the car and there was a goat on the road next to me who just came right up to me and started what I can best describe as yelling at me and tried to bite my pants. Between the ride and the near flight miss, I didn’t think Haiti and I had much of a future, and now I had this goat on my case. Eventually the goat’s owner came up to me and said, “Sorry about that. This goat is racist.” A few hours later, while eating dinner, the same guy came up to me and told me I was eating that racist goat. That first day in Haiti was a heavy one, and there have been many heavy ones since, but there is always someone there to make you feel welcome and crack you up. Maybe it was heavy handed, but I haven’t had any issues with goats since.
How has Haiti changed since you first started traveling there? What changes stand out to you the most?
The earthquake was such a turning point in Haiti, it’s hard to remember thinking about the challenges in Haiti before it happened. Then for years after the earthquake, we just seemed to be mired in the recovery that it was so easy to lose sight that we were making progress everyday. I just returned to Haiti for the first time in three years, and the incredible progress Medishare has made just blew my mind. I was so impressed. I think our greatest accomplishment is how much is truly locally run, and how far our donors contributions go.
In what way do you think the maternity centers have impacted the communities in the Central Plateau?
Statistically, it’s impressive. But even saving one life in a maternity center makes it worth it at any cost. Now that I’m a mom of two I think I appreciate that a little better from a personal standpoint. When I had my daughter, Jane, I can say without a doubt, had I not been in a hospital to deliver, I would have died. A totally unexpected turn of events that is a reminder for our family that childbirth doesn’t always go easily, and in Haiti women are the lifeblood of not just their families, but their entire communities. I hope the maternity centers provide a level of safety that the community feels is a far-reaching protection, beyond just the lives of a mother and child.
What do you believe is the biggest need in the Haitian health system?
I am primary care doctor, and live and breathe the importance of illness prevention– vaccinations, cancer screenings, cardiovascular health, infectious disease transmission– everyday. Traditionally those have also been the focus of community health programs in Haiti because generally speaking, you get a lot of “bang for the buck” out of those programs. Low-cost interventions and years of lives saved. However, I have been convinced since medical school that in Haiti, the major gap that needs filling is in traumatic injury treatment, surgical interventions and critical care. I think that estimates of how many people die of treatable traumatic and surgical conditions are far lower than the real numbers, and that trauma, surgery and critical care does not need to be expensive for it to be effective. I also think that the perception of the community that their medical system cannot save them when they need it most actually goes on to undermine people’s faith in prevention programs. Haiti has the lowest life expectancy in the western hemisphere, and will always be susceptible to disasters. If their experience of their healthcare system is that it is useless in their time of need, no one will buy into the idea of prevention. I look forward to getting all that fixed and then I can lean back and start writing for everyone’s screening colonoscopies like I was trained to do.