December 15, 2013

Once-condemned doctor turns to helping Haitians

Arthur Fournier published an early study on the mysterious autoimmune disease later identified as AIDS.

By Jennifer Kay
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 2)

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Dr. Arthur Fournier stands in a North Miami clinic, as he discusses a time when a mysterious autoimmune disease baffled doctors and frightened a world unfamiliar with what is now called AIDS.

The Associated Press

“It lessens the impact of his involvement, the fact that he was able to leverage it with such good work over the years, always trying to understand the people ... and making them feel important enough to invest his time, to learn the language and bring information about prevention and access to health care to them,” Bastien says.

Soon, the culture Fournier found charming but mystifying when his first Haitian AIDS patient showed up in 1979 became like a second skin.

In 1994, Fournier co-founded Project Medishare, a nonprofit that provides health care in rural Haiti, far from the from the resources centralized in the country’s teeming capital. It was then that he made his first trip to one of the world’s most impoverished nations.

Like most first-time visitors, Fournier was shocked by the extreme poverty he saw. When his vehicle stopped in a slum in the Haitian capital, little girls rushed to his window, their hands reaching for the disposable cups they spotted inside. Fournier watched them take the used cups and dip them into puddles for something to drink.

Something clicked: The girls’ poverty and lack of resources left them susceptible to illness, not their nationality. Fournier thought back to the Haitian AIDS patients he had seen in Miami.

In the 20 years since that first visit, Fournier has been back more than 150 times, bringing University of Miami medical students to teach them about Haitian culture in hopes of encouraging them to pursue careers in global health and change medicine for the poor, says Dr. Barth Green, who co-founded Medishare with Fournier.

“He’s a very special person who does believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy,” says Green.

Today, Fournier still travels to both Haiti and parts of Miami, continuing his work with the community to which he committed his career. He recently showed off the benefits of a medical clinic embedded in a North Miami high school, and he reflected back on his years of work with the Haitian people.

“When you come from impoverished circumstances, I think you realize there are barriers to class and culture that consciously or unconsciously interfere with the people you’re trying to serve,” Fournier says. “I used to think that all you had to know to be a good doctor was to know medicine, but you really have to have a bond with the people you’re trying to serve.”

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