Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COVID-19 and the Threat to Haiti

Chest x-ray film drying in courtyard of Alma Mater Hospital.

Yesterday, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) announced four additional confirmed cases of COVID-19­­. This announcement brings the suspected total to six cases. News reports state that more than one-hundred Haitians are currently in quarantine.

Dr. Lauré Adrien, the Director General of MSPP, has stated that the Haitian government is attempting to be transparent during this crisis but offered no information on number of patients tested, testing capacity, or strategic plan to prepare for the anticipated surge of cases. Moreover, the hospital beds, trained personnel, and ventilators available in Haiti are known to be inadequate for handling a major infectious disease epidemic, as illustrated in the cholera outbreak.

Last Thursday, President Jovenal Moise declared a State of Emergency, closing airports, schools, factories, and Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic. The act also imposed a curfew, effective daily from 8pm to 5am. A campaign is currently underway to encourage Haitians to wash hands frequently and maintain social distancing. However, this will most likely be difficult in the poorest and most densely-populated country in the Caribbean. A large proportion of Haitians lack access to water and many engage in the informal selling of small goods. At present, it appears that Moise’s State of Emergency goes unheeded: markets remain open and busy, and tap-taps (local buses) are crowded with travelers.

At this time, many North Americans residing within Haiti are eager to leave the country. Despite the ban of travel, the Haitian Government has allowed some flights to leave Port-au-Prince flying to Miami (i.e., two flights departed yesterday). The U.S. and Canadian embassies are working with airlines to facilitate the scheduling of more flights in an effort to allow their citizens to return home. However, as of yesterday, road blockades and robberies on National Route 1 (both north and south of Port-au-Prince) have been reported – severely complicating travel to the airport.

Despite their limited capacity, hospitals are preparing for an influx of patients infected with COVID-19. The Medicine For Peace Women’s Health Clinic in Gros Morne remains open, and nurses are complying with all WHO recommendations in an effort to protect health workers and patients.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Medicine For Peace Receives Human Rights Award

Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) has awarded its 2020 Human Rights Award to Medicine For Peace (MFP) for its work caring for survivors of torture and its role in the international campaign against torture. MFP has helped torture victims in the Washington-Baltimore area since 2009 and presently has its clinic at Grace Medical Center in W. Baltimore, MD.
Dr. Michael Viola, MFP Director, stated, “We are honored to accept this award from such a distinguished organization and want to recognize all of the nurses, physicians, interpreters and befrienders who have worked tirelessly in our clinic to rehabilitate torture victims.”

Dr. Viola accepted the award for MFP at a ceremony at TASSC headquarters in Washington, DC on February 8, 2020.

Monday, March 16, 2020


Medicine For Peace News
MFP volunteer making afternoon sleeping bag run.

Haiti. The Republic of Haiti has not yet documented a case of novel coronavirus infection and remains one of a hand-full of countries in the Caribbean yet to report a case. In contrast, as of March 14, neighboring Dominican Republic had identified 11 cases. We are pleased to report that the Medicine For Peace Women’s Health Program in the Gros Morne area continues to be fully operational.

On Sunday, March 15, the Haitian Prime Minister, Jouthe Joseph, officially closed down airports and ports, as well as the Dominican Republic border to all travelers. The United States is exempted. However, the U.S. State Department had designated Haiti a level 4 country—do not travel—since March 5 because of crime, civil unrest, and kidnappings. Humanitarian aid and authorized supplies for the population may enter the country.

The Haitian Government has focused on stopping the virus from entering the country because Haitians are particularly vulnerable. The population is weakened by food shortages (3.7 million people need food assistance) and hospitals are poorly equipped, lacking the necessary supplies, equipment, trained personnel, and a strategic plan to cope with a highly contagious virus epidemic. The situation is complicated further by difficulties in transport within the country due to of episodic civil disturbance and road blockades.

While the Government should be lauded for a number of its efforts to prevent this epidemic from entering the country, it is unlikely to succeed where other countries have failed. Reports of unpreparedness from staff at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince are troubling, and a more robust plan to identify cases and respond appropriately has to be implemented before the virus gains a foothold in Haiti.

Baltimore, MD. Medicine For Peace has initiated its program for the homeless, Sleepwell, by distributing sleeping bags and information on shelters to people living on Baltimore streets. We do not believe that providing basic needs to homeless individuals encourages them to stay on the street and out of a shelter. The reality is that people living on the street are barely surviving and bringing them some comfort is a humane act.

The larger problem of protecting the U.S. homeless population and staff at shelters during the COVID-19 epidemic is addressed by specific CDC recommendations which we support. They include: restructuring shelters to make them safer for staff and clients, alerting the homeless on COVID-19 symptoms and on social distancing, identifying community quarantine sites, and initiating a plan for rapid testing, isolation and treatment when necessary. It is critical to direct federal funding to support initiatives to prevent widespread coronavirus infection among one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.