On September 26, 2011 the Medical School of UNIFA (the University of the Aristide Foundation) officially reopened its doors to a new class of future Haitian doctors. Seven years after the school’s forced closure in 2004, and four months after the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti, medical education resumed at UNIFA.
Over the summer of 2011, the Faculty of Medicine (pictured below) was repaired and refurbished after sustaining mild damage in the 2010 quake.
In late August, recruitment of students began. A week-long registration period brought thousands of young applicants to UNIFA and the Aristide Foundation where initial registration was held. Nine hundred students whose grades and scores on the Baccalaureate exam met the minimum requirement went on to take an entrance exam.
From the 900 applicants, 126 students who received the highest test scores were selected.
UNIFA was founded in 2001 in response to the desperate need for more doctors and health professionals in Haiti. A fundamental part of its mission was and is to begin to break down long traditions of exclusion of the poor majority in Haiti from access to higher education. Even before the earthquake there were very few spots in medical schools in Haiti (private or public). Gaining entrance to Medical School was nearly impossible for students without connections or financial means. The earthquake destroyed or severely damaged 80% of the institutions of higher education, most are still struggling to resume full functioning. All of this made the reopening of UNIFA a priority. Today UNIFA still aims to combat social exclusion by recruiting students from families who have historically been unable to access higher education, from all ten departments of Haiti, and with a commitment to equal gender representation. Without financial support from the public sector, UNIFA can no longer offer Medical education free of charge. However tuition at UNIFA is just one-third of what private medical school in Haiti charge.
On September 26, 2011 Dr Ginette Lubin the new Dean of the Medical School welcomed the new students to the campus.
Classes began the next day. This fall the students completed a 3-month intensive Spanish language program. As was the case before 2004, UNIFA’s medical curriculum is based on the curriculum used in Cuba, which has trained thousands of doctors from Latin America. UniFA’s faculty today consist of a mix of Haitian and Cuban medical and languages specialists. A select group of UniFA alumni, doctors from the original three classes of medical students who went on to complete their medical studies in Cuba after the 2004 coup d’etat, are assisting in the classrooms. The long term goal is that some of these young doctors will go on to get pedagogical training and eventually become faculty members at UNIFA.
After completing the first phase of their language training the new class began the Medical portion of their studies in January 2012. They are expected to complete their studies in three to four years.
The reopening of UNIFA war financially possible due to two generous donations. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health for their steadfast support. We are also grateful to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund for the faith and dedication they have shown to the AFD and to UniFA.
We congratulate this first class of medical students for their success in gaining entry to UNIFA. We salute the sacrifices that they and their families are making to allow them to attend. We also salute the tremendous hard work of everyone involved, the staff and faculty of UNIFA, for coming together, rebuilding and reopening in such a short time.