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.