One year after Haiti earthquake, Brown School public health expert Iannotti continues work on the ground

On Jan. 12, 2010, Lora Iannotti, PhD, nutrition and public health expert at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, was in Leogane, a seaside town 18 miles west of Port au Prince, Haiti, working with local officials on improving the health of Haitian children.

That’s when a catastrophic earthquake struck the poverty-stricken country. Its epicenter, Leogane.

Iannotti survived, but some 230,000 perished. Haiti was devastated; an estimated 3 million were affected by the earthquake in a country already known as the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

Since last January, Iannotti, assistant professor at the Brown School, has returned to Haiti a number of times to continue her work on undernutrition and disease prevention in young children.

She is back in Haiti again, one year later.

Iannotti is spending this week in the north of Haiti training a team of Haitians to help study the effectiveness of ready-to-use supplemental foods such as Nutributter, a peanut butter paste product designed to prevent micronutrient deficiencies among infants and young children.

“It was important to me to be back in Haiti for the anniversary,” Iannotti says.


Iannotti is working with the St. Louis-based organization, Meds & Food for Kids (MFK), on the project. Nutributter eventually will be produced locally by MFK and have the added advantage of supporting peanut farmers and creating jobs.

Patricia Wolff, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, established MFK and serves as executive director of the nonprofit organization.

Earthquake response

Iannotti, who has been working in Haiti since 1990, says that the initial earthquake response from the international community was very good. “People were very quick to respond to immediate problems, like injuries,” she says.

“The problem is that many international aid organizations didn’t have the longer view in mind. People were very interested in the groups doing immediate humanitarian work and not as interested in groups focusing on development work — the groups that would end up remaining in Haiti today. They continue work in Haiti and do not have adequate resources or funding.”

Iannoti says its important now to develop long-term strategies, such as education and improving sanitation and water sources.

“People generously brought bottled water to Haiti after the earthquake, but that does not last forever,” she says. “Having access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation is critical or problems like the cholera epidemic will continue to mount.”

Haiti’s reality

Iannotti says that earthquake cleanup is far from complete.

“Many buildings are still in a lot of rubble and tent communities are pretty widespread,” she says. “The other reality that is hard to accept, given the initial outpouring, is that there are not enough resources to start looking at long-term strategies.”

“What we were focused on before the earthquake was the problem of malnutrition and hidden hunger in Haiti — deficiencies in micronutrients — and that problem continues,” Iannotti says.

“A third of Haitian children under five are undernourished, stunted from poor nutrition. Our project in the north is looking to prevent undernutrition during this vulnerable period. In Haiti, there are a lot of people working to treat malnutrition and not enough people working to prevent undernutrition.”

When the cholera epidemic hit in October, Iannotti and colleagues more rigorously introduced a diarrhea prevention program into their project.

Editor’s Note: Professor Iannotti will be in Haiti through Saturday, Jan. 15, and may be available for interviews. Please contact Jessica Martin at (314) 935-5251 or for Iannotti’s phone number in Haiti. After Jan. 15, Iannotti is available for live or taped interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines.