Monday, March 16, 2020

NEWS: COVID-19 IN HAITI, SLEEPWELL FOR BALTIMORE HOMELESS

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.