Among the hundreds of thousands of victims of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti was a beloved doctor, Dr. Pagenel, from PIH’s sister organization Zanmi Lasante (ZL). Dok Pagenel, as he was known, was the ZL Director for Training and Medical Education and the Director of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Center—a collaboration between ZL, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the University of Washington I-TECH program. Dok Pagenel had advanced training in Family Practice at the Justinian Hospital program in Cap Haitian and had studied community health in Montreal, Canada. With these credentials, he returned to Haiti in 2007 to work in Haiti’s rural, isolated Central Plateau to serve the poor and raise the academic standards of medicine within our programs.
While his body has yet to be recovered, memorials held in advance of the one month anniversary of the quake at the nine ZL-supported clinics throughout Haiti were marked by an outpouring of remembrance and love for Dok Pagenel. “Pagenel was a humanist and philosopher—who was rarely seen without book in his hand,” said one of his closest friends, Dr. Jennifer Severe, the Director of the TB/HIV Program in Cerca La Source. “He loved reading the bible, listening to gospel music and learning languages [he spoke English, Spanish, German and French as well as Haitian Creole]. He was always ready to deepen any discussion medical or otherwise with tenets of philosophy, history, religion or politics.”
Dok Pagenel also had a driving desire to increase medical knowledge--his own and that of the entire ZL staff. As such, he was responsible for coordinating the “Wednesday Academic,” a well-attended weekly lecture series at ZL sites.
Dr. Desire Roland, a long time friend of Dr. Pagenel looks to his spirit to guide Haiti’s future, “Dok Pagenel was a dynamic man with a strong personality who will remain an example to all those working to reconstruct Haiti to reflect the determination and will of the Haitian people.”
“Dr. Pagenel truly lived the term preferential option for the poor,” said PIH’s Clinical Director in Haiti, Dr. Louise Ivers. “He could have worked anywhere but he decided to work in one of the most isolated parts of Haiti to serve his people. On January 12th, Dok Pagenel had left Hinche, Haiti to attend a meeting in Port Au Prince. He was to lead Zanmi Lasante’s effort within PAHO/WHO to address neglected tropical diseases in Haiti, starting with filariasis. In Dr. Pagenel’s last note he wrote of engaging the international health community in this important dialogue. It is even harder to accept Dok Pagenel’s death at Zanmi Lasante as our hearts were already broken when, on September 1, 2009, Dr. Josue Augustin was murdered. It’s as if we’ve just been hit again by something we can’t believe nor comprehend.” To lose a leader of Dok Pagenel’s stature and grace leaves an indelible mark on our family.
Dok Pagenel’s life will be celebrated through the continuation of thoughtful and regular scholarship at ZL. On February 27, 2010, at the first convocation of twenty doctors as Fellows in Global Health Implementation within the Division of Global Health Equity at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Mario Pagenel will be among the honorees. In his personal statement submitted in advance of the Fellowship convocation Dok Pagenel wrote the following:
Since I began my work at Zanmi Lasante in early 2007, I have devoted myself to ensuring that the poorest are able to secure access to basic health care… I had the most thrilling experience of my life as HIV/AIDS & TB Program Manager. I realized that working in a resource-poor community required not only knowledge and skills but also appeals to the heart of health care providers. It takes energy, commitment and empathy towards human suffering to face the daily challenges of caring for people living with HIV in Central Plateau, the poorest area in the Western Hemisphere. Zanmi Lasante has shown me that solidarity with the underserved is always possible and it is not so much the lack of means in the world but rather the lack of will.
We go forward with the work and will of Dr. Mario Pagenel in our hearts. Dok Pagenel, nou pap janm bliye’w.
By Joia Mukherjee and Cate Oswald with contributions from the Zanmi Lasante Staff.