Monday, September 6, 2021

Haiti: Earthquake and COVID-19 Update

The Ofatma Hospital in Les Cayes. Earthquake victims are cared for on the porch due to cracks in the internal walls. Photo Fernando Liano.


At 8:30 am on Saturday morning, August 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, 78 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The strong shallow quake destroyed homes, schools, roads, and other infrastructure. While rescue workers continue to dig through the debris, Haitian officials report hundreds of individuals are missing, thousands have died, and tens of thousands of people are displaced and in need of shelter and access to water and food. 

 Dr. MichaelViola, Director of MFP, stated, “Although we are relieved that Medicine For Peace personnel and facilities in Gros Morne were unharmed in the earthquake, we are deeply concerned about residents in the Les Cayes region. We are closely monitoring recovery efforts and are providing support to colleagues caring for survivors.” 

 Multiple overlapping crises are complicating efforts to rapidly provide relief to the region. Within days of the earthquake, Tropical Storm Grace pelted the area with heavy rains causing mudslides and road closures. Of further concern, heavily armed gangs have blocked convoys of relief supplies from reaching the affected area, abducted relief workers, and demanded ransom. Moreover, President Jovenel Moise’s recent assassination has left an ineffective interim government in place. However, corrupt politicians and street gangs do not reflect the Haitian people who display inordinate courage during times of disaster. 

 Despite the painfully slow mobilization of international and Haitian-based relief efforts, injured patients are being treated by local medical groups, field hospitals have been opened to care for trauma victims, food and water have been delivered, and sturdy tents have arrived to protect displaced residents from harsh rains. 

 At the same time, Haiti is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and coronavirus-related deaths. One hopeful note: Haiti recently received 500,000 doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and rapidly established distribution centers throughout the country. We are pleased to announce that on August 10, Alma Mater Hospital in Gros Morne initiated its vaccination program. 

Michael Viola, MD 
MFP Medicine For Peace 
medforpeace@aol.com 
medicineforpeace.org

Friday, July 24, 2020

MFP, Civil rights, and the killing of George Floyd: A video.

Medicine For Peace's statement on the death of George Floyd in light of the organization's long commitment to civil rights.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Pandemic Notes from a Rural Haitian Hospital(1)


Alma Mater Hospital in Gros Morne, Haiti



Since March 19th, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Haiti, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population has attributed a total of 6,371 confirmed cases and 113 deaths to the virus infection. These statistics are flawed because Haiti’s two virus testing sites are overwhelmed, and they are in sharp contrast to the troubling data from neighboring Dominican Republic (reporting 38,432 cases and 821 deaths). At this point in the pandemic, it seems clear that the government has grossly underestimated incidence and mortality rates and have minimized the terrible risk that this virus poses to its vulnerable population.

 

Initially, the Haitian government’s response was swift and effective. They closed down the country in March, and social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing was common – particularly in Port-au-Prince. However, as the pandemic continues, preventive measures have waned in the cities and are near nonexistent in the countryside.

 

In Gros Morne, a mountain town of 34,000 residents and the health center for the northern Artibinite region (164,000 people), hardly any precautions are being taken. The realities of poverty and the need to eke out a living to put a daily meal on the table impose overcrowding and the need for close personal interactions. As such, there is a great deal of “fever” in town, but few will admit to COVID-19 symptoms because of the stigma. Only a handful of very ill patients have come to the Alma Mater Hospital. Still, the virus takes its toll: there were thirteen funerals on Saturday and five on Sunday, far more than usual.

 

The Haitian government plans to allow churches to hold services starting next week and will open schools again in August. With no countrywide COVID-19 response plan and limited access to testing kits, we are bracing for an onslaught. Meanwhile, our public health workers are attempting to destigmatize the disease, educate the public on its symptoms, promote mask wearing, and encourage sick patients to come to the hospital.

 

Brittany Galvin, RN NP

Michael Viola, MD