Haitian Crisis Curtails Full Operations at Most Hospitals
Washington, DC, March 1, 2004 (PAHO)—Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) officials said that most of Haiti's hospitals and health centers ceased full operations over the weekend, a situation made worse by a lack of electricity and water triggered by fuel shortages.
This situation, in turn, has resulted in that many medical emergency cases have not been dealt with.
There are eight hospitals in the Port-au-Prince area alone, but all of them have been unable to take care of patients. The same goes for the largest of them, the State University Hospital, which usually takes care of most of the capital city's population.
"The situation in Port-au-Prince is serious because of the interruption of basic services, some of which were facing difficulties even before this crisis. We must first, and urgently, resume and strengthen the services that already existed. There are numerous agencies and personnel in the country ready to resume their work as soon as the security situation improves," said Dr. Jean-Luc Poncelet, head of PAHO's Program on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief.
Poncelet also said that PAHO's Essential Drug Program (PROMESS), which has been supplying essential drugs since 1992, remains secure. Other PAHO officials said PROMESS has been spared any of the looting that has taken place in the Port-au-Prince area.
Poncelet said that several shipments of medical supplies - including surgical kits, essential medicines and vaccines - have been put on hold because of the looting at Port-au-Prince's port and airport. However, he expressed the hope that it can be resumed soon.
PAHO has set up an emergency center at its Washington, D.C. headquarters, to coordinate the work of its 12 officials on the ground in Haiti. All of them are safe at a Port-au-Prince hotel, where the PAHO officials now have their operations center.
PAHO officials have asked that all parties in the Haitian conflict respect the neutrality of hospitals and medical centers. "Anybody who is wounded needs immediate medical attention," Poncelet said.
PAHO officials also said that their work in Haiti is being carried out in an atmosphere of tension and fear. They noted that most people are staying in their homes and off the streets.
However, despite the crisis last week PAHO was successful - in a joint operation with the International Red Cross -- in sending two convoys with medicines and vaccines to the towns of Gonaives and Saint Marc, north of Port-au-Prince.
"PAHO continues to work to help alleviate Haiti's humanitarian crisis by coordinating the shipments of medical supplies to hospitals in the affected areas," said Dr. Poncelet. "The priorities continue to be to ensure the distribution of essential medicines and medical services to the most vulnerable sectors of the population, to strengthen the logistical support and to reactivate the monitoring stations for specific information about diseases."
Among the most critical needs are the supply of fuel to operate generators and power stations for the supply of water to health centers and hospitals. It's also needed to resume operations at several distribution centers of drinking water. PAHO officials in Haiti also said there a critical need for propane gas to keep vaccines in refrigeration.
PAHO has set up an emergency operations center in Port-au-Prince and continues to work to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, coordinating the provision of medical supplies to hospitals in affected areas.
This is the bicentennial of Haiti's independence from France in 1804. However, according to PAHO's 2002 report on Health in the Americas, "poverty and social exclusion remain unchanged for most of the Haitian population."
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.