Wayne State University Researchers Determine Quake’s Effect on Mortality

HaitiFour months after Michigan researchers conducted interviews in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, the infamous magnitude 7.0 earthquake shocked the island nation, killing thousands and leaving millions homeless.

With pre-disaster data, Royce Hutson , Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at Wayne State University, and Athena Kolbe , M.S.W., WSU School of Social Work alumna, principal investigator of the study and joint doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, conducted follow-up interviews with 93 percent of the 1,800 initial respondents to comprehensively study the earthquake’s impact on mortality, crime and access to basic needs in the greater Port-au-Prince area. Their findings were used to create the UN Development Program’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, and were also published in the October-December 2010 issue of Medicine, Conflict and Survival.

“We were able to estimate the number of injuries that resulted in death in the greater Port-au-Prince area as a result of having a representative sample in 2009 just prior to the earthquake,” said Hutson. Their data on mortality indicated that nearly 160,000 people died, mostly children under 12, from injuries or illness in Port-au-Prince during or six weeks after the quake. Some of the most commonly reported illnesses after the earthquake were diarrhea, headaches and fever, and in some cases these treatable illnesses resulted in death.

Hutson and Kolbe also studied the prevalence of crime, particularly sexual and physical assault. Sexual assault, which was more common than physical assault, affected females almost exclusively during the six-week period after the earthquake.

Homelessness in Port-au-Prince increased drastically, with 24.4 percent of respondents’ homes having been completely destroyed. More than half the Port-au-Prince population was living under conditions of moderate to severe food insecurity after the earthquake. It was also found that monetary donations were a stronger determinant of residents’ food security than employment.

To conduct the surveys, the researchers used GPS technology to randomize the sample of respondents. “We believe this is an advance on current methods and we will be publishing on this method shortly,” said Hutson.

Other collaborators on the study include Eileen Trzcinski , Ph.D., professor of social work at WSU; Bart Miles , Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at WSU; Naomi Levitz , M.S.W., research assistant at WSU’s School of Medicine’s Addiction Research Institute; Robert Muggah , Ph.D., research director of the Small Arms Survey at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland; Harry Shannon , Ph.D., professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada; Leah James , M.S.W., doctoral candidate at University of Michigan’s School of Social Work; Marie Puccio , doctoral candidate at University of Michigan’s Department of Political Science; and Jean Roger Noel , director of MABO, a child care center based in Port-au-Prince.

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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