‘Basic Needs Are Still Missing for Many People’
SPH alum Rupal Ramesh Shah (SPH’15) discusses her work as executive director of Konbit Sante, a Falmouth, Maine-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the healthcare system in Haiti.
From her hometown in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, to the US, South Africa, and Haiti, School of Public Health alum Rupal Ramesh Shah (SPH’15) has gained a world of experience in the field of global health, with expertise in quality improvement and infectious disease management, particularly for tuberculosis.
In 2018, as a tuberculosis laboratory consultant for Partners in Health, Shah helped launch the first Biosafety Level 3 Laboratory in Haiti’s Central Plateau. She later became a grant manager for the nonprofit organization, Health Equity International, and along the way, she says she shared numerous quality improvement recommendations with leaders she worked with on how to improve delivery of public health services.
“As an immigrant and a Tanzanian Indian American working in global health, I had unique perspectives and ideas about how we can be change makers and deliver public health interventions thoughtfully,” says Shah. “I realized that I didn’t always want to be the person giving the recommendations. Someday I wanted to direct the implementation of those recommendations.”
That desire is what led Shah to her current role as executive director of Konbit Sante, a nonprofit organization based in Falmouth, Maine that is dedicated to improving Haiti’s healthcare system, particularly in the Northern Department.
The organization partners with public and private hospitals and clinics in the city of Cap-Haitien to provide training, conduct research, deliver equipment, and improve infrastructure. The country is now dealing with the aftermath of the July assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, as well as the lingering effects of the 2010 earthquake and the new devastation of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the country’s southern region last month.
“Haiti was already overburdened with limited resources—access to clean drinking water, vaccinations, and holistic nutrition are basic needs that were missing for many people,” says Shah. “The assassination and the recent earthquake only increase this ongoing need for basic resources on the ground.”
While not a disaster response organization, Konbit Sante is providing financial support to its northern-region Haitian partners, who were not directly impacted by the recent earthquake and are providing medical aid to hospitals and communities in the southern areas. During the organization’s annual We Walk with Haiti summer fundraiser, Shah’s team raised more than $40,000—double the amount of money they raised last year. A portion of those funds have been used towards the earthquake relief efforts.
Shah says that the political instability that followed the president’s assassination adds a layer of complexity to the country’s earthquake response, but both crises emphasize the strength and collaborative spirit of the people of Haiti.
“For Haitians, this is their home and these are the challenges that they face each day,” she says. “After the earthquake, it was Haitians who were digging up rubble and counting the bodies of victims. They don’t have specialized equipment like the US. I saw Haitians coming together, like they always do in such situations.”
To support the people of Haiti, Shah urges people to send positivity and prayers, provide direct support to organizations working in Haiti, or donate medical supplies and other much-needed resources. “This is a time when everyone can come together and lift each other up.”