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PAHO intensifies recovery work at University Hospital of Haiti

Washington, DC, March 5, 2004 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is working intensely to reactivate the University Hospital of Haiti, especially its emergency room, coordinating the reestablishment of services and management of corpses, in addition to sanitation work, according to PAHO officials.

The hospital holds about 800 cadavers from the last several months. It is estimated that 200 of them were victims of violence over recent weeks.

"What is most important is to maintain the bodies in a refrigerated area and to carry out individual registries for later identification," said Dr. Jean Luc Poncelet of PAHO's Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program.

The University Hospital provides medical services to the majority of the population without access to private health care in Port-au-Prince. It has been closed since the beginning of the crisis; its staff has not been paid and has not returned to work. Interaction with local health authorities at all levels is difficult, according to PAHO officials in Haiti.

"Haiti does have a health infrastructure, though minimal, and we have to get it working again. We don't need to install field hospitals, we need to focus on the process of recovery using the same people who already worked in the health services, nongovernmental organizations, and other sectors," Poncelet said.

This process began several days ago, when PAHO facilitated the provision of emergency fuel to 10 hospitals to get their generators running. Sanitation work began at the University Hospital, where a group of Cuban physicians is assisting in the emergency room.

Today, PAHO met with personnel of the Delmas 33 hospital and staff from other hospitals, to begin reestablishment of public health services. Private hospitals have been slowly reactivating their services. The main limitation is the lack of funds. Haiti has 8 million inhabitants, of which 60 percent have access to health services. Most of the population uses the public hospitals.

PAHO has also been supporting the distribution of essential drugs since the crisis started through PROMESS, Haiti's central pharmacy.

"PROMESS has not stopped carrying out various activities and with a great deal of effort we were able to distribute drugs in different areas of the country with our network of partners in health," said Dr. Lea Guido, PAHO's country representative in Haiti. Medicaments for public health services that were in airport warehouses are now being distributed, added Guido.

PAHO's activities with its network of partners in Haiti have advanced, based on the Organization's previous work in the country since long before the crisis. PAHO experts in emergency response and logistics have been sent to Haiti. Argentina, Chile, and Cuba have sent donations. France sent ambulances, and the U.S. has already donated $400,000. The U.S. Agency for International Development also gave $50,000 to transport and distribute medical equipment and supplies worth $87,000, while Canada donated $300,000 Canadian dollars and will send another $130,000.

Today all the groups working in the health emergency in Haiti are meeting at the PAHO office, to coordinate the work of reestablishing health services.

PAHO has a team of 12 experts in emergencies that has been working intensely in Haiti from the beginning of the crisis, in addition to its normal complement of Haiti-based staff. PAHO is also coordinating actions with its office of the Dominican Republic, where families of PAHO officials were evacuated from Port-au-Prince when the revolt exploded.

The Organization is also issuing bulletins on local radio to inform which hospitals are open and to disseminating public health messages for the population.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the oldest public health organization in the world. It is also the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization and works with all the countries in the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Office of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org.