Monday, March 1, 2010

Update from Port-Au-Prince and Gros Morne.

Port-Au-Prince. Seven weeks after the earthquake, rubble is slowly being cleared from the main streets of Port-Au-Prince. Two hundred and eighty-five thousand destroyed buildings and houses can make a lot of rubble. The destruction of much of the city has forced about 700,000 residents into planned and spontaneous tent encampments. The planned camps have family sized tents, and some of those residents have kitchen implements, sanitation kits, blankets, and mosquito nets. The spontaneous settlements (photo-left) consist of huts constructed out of cardboard, plastic, and distributed tarpaulin; families just huddle in them. Latrines continue to be constructed close to the camp sites. The rainy season begins later this month, and there is concern that the camp plots will turn into a sea of mud, wreak havoc with sanitation, and contagious diseases will become a major threat.

The World Food organization has distributed food (rice, beans, oil, salt, corn-soy blend) to more than four million people. Children under three with increased risk of malnutrition are receiving supplemental nutrition. With the increased availability of food, the much-reported thefts, violence, prostitution have decreased considerably. However, special police units have been formed to assist in protecting displaced women and children against violence.

Hospital services (in existing institutions and those set up in response to the disaster) are slowly being restored. A system of triage to specialized centers is operating fairly efficiently. Many of the foreign physician and nurse teams are still working round the clock, but there is less need for trauma and orthopedic surgeons now, and more for primary care physicians and rehabilitation specialists.

Gros Morne. The disaster has created different problems in rural areas than in Port-Au-Prince. While buildings did not collapse in Gros Morne, many developed cracks in walls and are unsafe work or live in. A number of structures at the Alma Mater Hospital and one of our rural clinics had to be vacated. We are in need of structural engineers to assess the safety and possibility of reconstructing these structures.

Medicine For Peace is involved in two major activities in Gros Morne: house building and improving the health of women. The influx of 25,000 people from Port-Au-Prince, who are unlikely to return to the capital, has created crowded, unhygienic living conditions for many families. MFP with its partners in Gros Morne has undertaken a project to build single family dwellings that conform to quake-resistant building codes. Employing earthquake-resistant features adds minimally to the cost of construction. The homes will be built in safer sites with local materials, and will be constructed by Haitian workers.

MFP’s women’s health initiative is centered at the Alma Mater Hospital, the government designated hospital for the 125,000 residents of the greater Gros Morne. Meetings have taken place all week between MFP staff, our Haitian medical partners, the hospital board, and women’s organizations to develop strategies to promote the educational aspects of the program. The goal of the program is the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, and other sexually transmitted diseases in women in the Gros Morne region.