Americans Too Distracted by Election to Notice Haitian Suffering After Hurricane Matthew

People carry their belongings as they wade across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016.
People carry their belongings as they wade across a flooded street while Hurricane Matthew passes through Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 4, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

The same day that the now-infamous tape of Trump speaking poorly of women was released, Hurricane Matthew was hitting the Caribbean hard. Two days later, during the second presidential debate, Secretary Clinton expressed frustration that Donald Trump was all about distractions that night. Much like the presidential candidates are trying to distract the American people from their downfalls, Americans are in turn being distracted from things that are a matter of life and death.

Haiti is devastated; more than 1,000 people have died in just 10 days. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, more than a million are now vulnerable to disease — diseases that should not be life-threatening, but are. As the leader of an international nonprofit that provides life-saving medicines to people living in poverty and someone who contracted a deadly disease in my childhood, I know first-hand the implications that come when common medicine is not accessible to those who need it most.

As an infant, I contracted polio, a disease that can now be thwarted with a simple vaccine. By the time I was five years old, my family could no longer take care of me, so I spent my childhood in a Korean orphanage — a disabled child seemingly forgotten. My life, in the eyes of the world, was worth little until I was adopted by a visitor from America and became an American citizen.

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At times like this, I am acutely aware of how I am seemingly more valued now as an American than when I lived in South Korea. In America, there would have been outrage if I did not receive a life-saving medicine needed to survive a simple disease. If I was injured and not quickly taken to a hospital, there would be outcry from the public.

Right now, health and aid workers are rushing to Haiti to help those who are clinging to life. Every day counts in a disaster situation like this one. Let me repeat: every day counts. Life without clean water, food and shelter quickly becomes deadly. Ten days is a long time to go without; two weeks strains the rate of survival.

Haitians are dead and dying: mothers, fathers, precious sons and daughters. They are dying because they lack drinking water and medicine and food. Relief groups like MAP International and many others are responding quickly and doing all that they can. But I dare say that the outpouring of support has not been overwhelming. Most organizations say donations have been slow in coming. Americans are distracted.

Time is running out to pay attention. As Americans, we say that we value each life. Let's be sure we value those whose deaths can be prevented. Don't wait until tomorrow to lend your support. I urge you to help those who are sending aid to Haiti. Politics will continue into next week, but many Haitians won't survive that long.

Steve Stirling is president and CEO of MAP International, which provides life-saving medicines to people living in poverty. For more information on its relief efforts in Haiti visit

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