Bastyr Graduate Brings Naturopathic Relief to Haiti

Photograph of Sabine Thomas

A Bastyr graduate's work to help people in the aftermath of Haiti's 2010 earthquake could help naturopathic medicine play a more coordinated role in disaster relief efforts around the world.

In the year since a massive earthquake leveled much of her family's home country of Haiti, Bastyr University graduate, Haitian-American and post-doctoral fellow Sabine Thomas, ND, has played a role in the formation of the Naturopathic Global Health Council (NGHC), which is working toward better integrating natural medicine practitioners into disaster relief plans the world over.

The 2007 Bastyr University graduate has worked periodically in Haiti since the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Jan. 12, 2010, killing an estimated 230,000 people, including two in Dr. Thomas' own family.

"Everyone we know has lost somebody," she said. "It has been a global collective loss."

Dr. Thomas was awarded a National Institutes of Health/National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NIH/NCCAM) grant in August 2009 to study the role complementary and alternative medicine plays in global health systems and in abating health disparities in community health centers. Dr. Thomas took an interest in studying traditional medicine in Haiti and what it may teach complementary medicine practitioners in the United States about how cultural awareness affects health disparities in community health settings.

In her three trips to Haiti since the quake, she and other naturopathic doctors have contacted other disaster relief organizations and clinics, and have helped those injured and recovering from the disaster.

Though NDs are not trained in advanced emergency medicine, Dr. Thomas said she sees the value of incorporating NDs into the short- and long-term recovery or rehabilitation phase of disaster management. During the recovery phase, which is often between one month and one year after a disaster, urgent-care medical teams leave and chronic medical conditions slowly start setting in for the victims.

"There is a place for us," she said. "Naturopathic doctors can play a role in this recovery phase."

In Haiti there is already openness to natural healing because of its traditions of natural remedies, Dr. Thomas said.

"It's practiced on a daily basis," she said.

Her trips to Haiti have added to her research and disaster relief work, and she’s helped with the formation of the NGHC, an outgrowth of the Natural Doctors International (NDI).

The NGHC is studying issues like emergency response and aid, and believes that natural medicine can serve a vital role in global health. Naturopathic practitioners can help prevent disease and infection, provide aid to those with chronic health conditions, and educate populations about using local flora and fauna for food and medicine.

While she doesn’t have any additional trips planned to Haiti in the near future, Dr. Thomas hopes to continue supporting projects of recovery and the global efforts of NGHC.

A Vigil for Haiti

Bastyr University's Haitian community has organized a candlelight vigil Wednesday night, the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 and leveled much of the country's infrastructure. The event will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Bastyr University Chapel.

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