Mark Atkinson, Ph.D. ’88, professor in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine and an eminent scholar for diabetes research at the University of Florida, will leave Saturday morning for Haiti, answering a call for help from a hospital about 35 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
Atkinson, co-director of UF’s Diabetes Center of Excellence, has organized a team of health-care professionals with experience in providing medical care in developing countries and in disaster relief. He has traveled to Haiti since the 1990s providing medical, dental and educational assistance and just returned from the country last week. Atkinson explained the area he will travel to is expected to receive an influx of refugees from Port-au-Prince in the next few days.
“The medical director of a hospital in Saint-Marc put out a plea,” Atkinson said on Thursday as he organized his trip from his UF office. “They have no doctors, no supplies and they expect thousands of people who have lost their homes and who are looking for food, water and medical care.”
Atkinson said he knows the circumstances in Haiti are horrible, but he is optimistic the international community will organize an effective relief effort and learn from mistakes of the past.
“The next few days will be rough,” he said, working without sleep for more than 24 hours. “The needs are high but the means for delivery are just not going to be there.
“But what else can we do?” he continued. “Whether we’re trying to find a cure for diabetes or going down to help the people of Haiti, it’s all the same thing.”