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PAHO/WHO Ensuring Haiti Health Systems Operate

Washington, DC, March 11, 2004 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) stands ready to assist Haiti to ensure that basic health systems operate during the transition from emergency to normalization, Dr. Jean Luc Poncelet, the head of PAHO's Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program, said today.

A PAHO/WHO representative travels Saturday as part of a United Nations team mandated with creating a needs assessment as the besieged Haiti moves from its post emergency phase to normalization. "There will be a gap," Poncelet said, adding that the "objective of PAHO is to keep the health systems running throughout."

PAHO/WHO already has some 80 personnel on the ground in Haiti, most of whom were in place before the crisis, and more were expected to arrive in the upcoming days. PAHO serves as the regional office for the World Health Organization and represents WHO in the hemisphere.

"Our position is to respect the existing structure," Poncelet said. "There are people in the ministries. Many hospitals are open, albeit in a very limited fashion. Most of the private hospitals in the capital are operating."

Only about 60 percent of Haiti's 8 million people have access to any kind of health care services. A large part of the population relies on public hospitals.

Epidemiological surveys were underway, and PAHO/WHO was making plans to resume vaccination activities against polio, measles, and tetanus for some 280,000 children along with UNICEF. The health situation in Haiti suffered long before the crisis erupted several weeks ago. In 2001, Haiti suffered an outbreak of poliomyelitis, which sparked hemispheric concern in the region that had been without a case of polio since 1991. That outbreak was quickly contained.

The PAHO-run PROMESS, a central warehouse that handles essential drugs and supplies, has been dispensing medicines and supplies valued at more than $150,000, an indication that medical supplies are getting out to the people. The distribution of the supplies through PROMESS is being coordinated by PAHO, International Red Cross, USAID, Catholic Relief Services and other nongovernmental organizations.

A UN appeal for assistance to Haiti to restore basic needs, especially in the rural isolated areas. Noted that several hospitals and health care centers had been the target of armed groups, resulting in a lack of medicines, vaccines and medical personnel. The appeal also sited problems surrounding reproductive health, nutrition, access to HIV drugs, water, food security, and violence.

In all crises, the most vulnerable groups suffer the most women, children, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases. Tax free donations can be sent directly to the Pan American Health and Education Foundation through their website.

PAHO /WHO maintains an office in Haiti and has been working with partners to ensure that the health sector operates and meets the increasing needs of the people. PAHO also is coordinating actions with its office in the Dominican Republic and a number of countries, including Canada, the United States, Argentina, Chile and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Pan American Health Organization experts are working with members of the health care system and nongovernmental organizations to ensure delivery of medical supplies and equipment to the most affected areas.

PAHO, founded more than 100 years ago, works with all the countries of the Western Hemisphere to improve health and raise living standards in all the countries of the Americas.

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Bryna Brennan, Tel (202) 974-3457, Fax (202) 974-3143, Pan American Health Organization, Public Information, e-mail: brennanb@paho.org.


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