Portland doctor brings naturopathic medicine to Haiti

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PORTLAND — Dr. Devra Krassner wasn’t sure what to expect on a recent trip to Haiti with the group Homeopaths Without Borders.

But she said what she found was a country “full of color, activity and music” even as the people there “continue to live in the face of (so) much adversity.”

Krassner is a naturopathic doctor who lives and practices in Portland. She went to Haiti as part of a mission to train local doctors and other health-care professionals in the use of acute-care homeopathy. During her time there she also treated patients, including children at a school in Port-au-Prince.

Krassner said introducing naturopathic care to Haitians is important because it is an effective and inexpensive form of medical treatment.

She described naturopathy as a practice of medicine that “uses natural therapies as a first line of approach, as opposed to drugs and surgery.”

“We believe that the body has the innate ability to heal itself, and our therapies are designed to stimulate the body’s healing ability,” Krassner said. “We use a variety of modalities, including therapeutic nutrition, lifestyle counseling, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and vitamin and mineral supplementation.”

In addition, some practitioners also provide acupuncture and midwifery services to their patients.

Krassner is a past president of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors and was instrumental in allowing naturopathic doctors to become licensed in Maine. She’s been practicing for 30 years and received her degree from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.

She said that naturopathic doctors go through “a comprehensive, postgraduate four-year program and are trained as family practitioners.”

“We take national board exams and are required to complete continuing education every year,” Krassner said. Naturopathic doctors can also prescribe medications, including antibiotics if necessary, she said. They also are covered by some insurance companies.

Krassner said the Maine Association of Homeopaths has developed a strong relationship with Homeopaths Without Borders over the past several years and has also established strong relationships with doctors and other health professionals in Haiti during their medical missions to the country.

“I wanted to go as I heard so many positive reports from others that have gone,” Krassner said about her recent visit. “I wanted to meet some of the doctors and other Haitians whom Homeopaths Without Borders have been working with.”

“I especially wanted to help teach these amazing providers and to treat patients homeopathically,” she added. “I went with a nurse practitioner, a chiropractor, and a lay homeopath from New York City.”

“We also helped teach in an ongoing program (that) trains doctors and other health providers how to be homeopaths themselves. This is especially important, as we are providing important therapeutic tools that can be used whether or not we are there.”

“Homeopathic remedies are safe, effective, inexpensive and without side effects,” Krassner said. “This makes them useful in all settings, but particularly in countries like Haiti that have little access to antibiotics or other medications that we (in the U.S.) take for granted.”

The Homeopaths Without Borders website said the organization’s “mission is to introduce or advance the understanding and use of homeopathy, … as well as to … provide homeopathic care and healing in emergency situations.”

To date, the organization said, “We have provided services in Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Haiti.”

Krassner spent a week in Haiti in January and said, “there were many memorable experiences. I especially enjoyed working with the children at the school that we visited.”

She was especially struck, however, by the “the degree of emotional and physical trauma” Haitians are still suffering following a devastating earthquake that hit the country in January 2010.

According to a recent report by the Huffington Post, the quake claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced more than 1.5 million people. And, seven years later, 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

Following the earthquake, Haiti was hit with a number of other devastating natural disasters, including a deadly cholera outbreak, which still continues to sicken people.

Even so, Krassner said, “I was (often) struck by the generosity of the Haitian people. The Haitians that I met were always willing to help others in whatever ways they could.”

“I did not have very high expectations, as I was not completely sure what to expect. (But), I brought back with me far more than I expected in terms of rich experiences, new friendships and the rewards of sharing homeopathy with people so willing to learn.”

“I would like people to know that the Haitians are resilient, generous, joyous, and making do with so much less than we have here,” Krassner said. “There is so much that we could give to Haiti. Americans take for granted so many things, (like) drinkable water, hot showers, gainful employment and safe housing.”

In sharing the story of her mission trip, Krassner said, “I hope that others are moved to contribute in whatever way they can to Haiti and the Haitian people.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Dr. Devra Krassner, a naturopathic doctor from Portland, took a recent mission trip to Haiti with the group Homeopaths Without Borders. While there she treated patients and trained local healthcare providers.