PUBLISHED ON January 10th, 2011
Jack Marlowe and four employees from his Olympia-based pest control firm volunteered for a week in Haiti in September to battle bugs and rats plaguing three hospitals. They were among 20 professional exterminators with the National Pest Management Association on the trip, tackling dangerous pest problems in Haitian hospitals.
“There’s incredible rubble and bad sanitation, which is a prescription for really bad rat infestations,” said Marlowe, president of Eden Advanced Pest Technologies in Olympia.
At one hospital storage area Marlowe visited, rats had chewed through bags of grain, and covered the food with feces. Doctors told stories of rats scurrying into operating rooms as they performed surgery on patients.
Marlowe, 52, and fellow volunteers set traps and poison bait on hospital grounds, and shared their techniques with a Haitian extermination firm struggling to control the rodents.
But the pest experts spent most of their time creating a feature that’s basic in American buildings: window screens. Since the hospitals lack window screens, doctors and patients have been suffering from mosquito bites, risking the possibility of malaria and dengue fever.
The volunteers fashioned screens out of duct tape and netting they brought from the states and PVC obtained in Haiti, then installed the screens in hospital windows, Marlowe said.
They arranged for screens from the United States to be shipped to a children’s hospital that had uniform window sizes.
Luckily, they brought their own tools. “The association shipped in a bunch of stuff that never made it out of customs; that seems to be a chronic problem. … For whatever reason, some of the things we needed never made it out of Haiti customs.”
Hospital staff were elated to have the screens.
“It touches your heart. When your expertise is needed, and it’s an important part of health and welfare for people, that makes you feel better than giving money,” said Marlowe, who covered the transportation, lodging and other costs for him and his employees to go to Haiti.
Much work remains. Marlowe said a survey team from the pest management association identified 30 Haitian hospitals that needed pest control assistance; two association-sponsored work trips have helped just six of them.
During drives through Port-au-Prince, Marlowe was struck by the level of destruction still evident nine months after the earthquake. “You’d have a six-story building that would pancake; you could see the six concrete floors, one on top of the other. That’s everywhere,” he said. “You’re constantly having to negotiate around piles of rubble in the streets.”
Yet he was impressed by the industriousness of Haitians, who make their way through the ruins, selling goods and food and doing what business they can. “It made you think, in their own strange way, things are getting back to normal. … The real recovery is going to take so long. If you’re not used to this by now, you’ve got problems.”