As Haitian Tragedy Unfolds, UB Experts Are Available to Discuss Why We Give, Dangers to Health, Haitian Spirit

Release Date: January 19, 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As details continue to unfold, medical, cultural and communication experts at the University at Buffalo are available to discuss the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti last week.

A listing of the experts and their commentary is available at http://newstips.buffalo.edu.

People across the nation and around the world are opening their hearts and their wallets in an effort to provide help to the devastated and impoverished Caribbean island nation. It is an instinct that is basic to the human condition, says Thomas H. Feeley, PhD, UB associate professor of communication and an expert on when and why people help and contribute.

"As humans, we are hardwired to help others in need; that is, we are inherently empathetic, altruistic individuals and helping behavior is somewhat automated. Donating also is a form of helping others that allows us to relieve our negative emotions like guilt and sadness that are brought on by emergencies."

Haiti has serious existing health problems that will be worsened by the earthquake aftermath if not addressed promptly, says Richard D. Lee, MD, UB professor of medicine and an expert in geographic medicine and public health.

"The lack of safe water, sanitation and cooking fuel very quickly could lead to increases in food and waterborne infections, such as diarrhea, salmonellae and possibly cholera," he says. "Hopefully, serious infections from dead bodies can be avoided, if corpses are collected and buried or cremated fairly quickly."

Anyone who has worked in Haiti knows the need there is almost beyond comprehension, says Patricia Polowy, MS, RN, UB clinical instructor of nursing. What is less well known is the spirit of the Haitian people.

"What are rare are the stories of Haitian grace, courage, profound faith and hope -- qualities that are as deep as the dust in this country and so inscrutable to non-Haitians that we can hardly begin to describe them," she says.

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