Jan. 12 marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic in Haiti. Writing from our vantage point in Haiti five years hence, we can’t help but reflect on those times in light of the numerous disasters and epidemics that have befallen many communities around the world since.

There is no question how different it would have been in all these cases if there were functional health care systems in place when disaster strikes – systems capable of providing decent preventive, primary and emergency care to their citizens on a daily basis.

Sometimes any system can be overwhelmed and require augmentation, but health care systems that are too weak to provide for even the minimal daily needs of their populations have little to contribute when disaster befalls their communities.

It is no more possible to build a real disaster response capability on a weak health system than to build a house on a weak foundation. That is why we at Konbit Sante are committed to doing everything we can to strengthen the Haitian health system rather than work around it.

Strengthening basic health systems and health-promoting sectors is difficult work, and gains are hard won, but in the long term there’s no substitute for the foundation it provides to deal with all manner of health challenges. Untold millions of our global neighbors could be saved if even the most basic existing interventions that are available to us in the more-privileged world were available to everyone.

On this somber anniversary, we want to extend our most sincere gratitude to all of you who supported Portland’s sister city, Cap-Haitien, through the darkest of times.

We also want to celebrate the collaborative effort between Maine and Haiti that helps build a more solid foundation for a healthier future, and we invite you to join us in support.

Nate Nickerson

executive director, Konbit Sante