Public Health

Haitian Quake Destroys Hospitals, Hampering Care

When a country as impoverished as Haiti is struck by a major earthquake, an already bleak health situation plunges deeper into the abyss.

A woman faints in the arms of a medic in an emergency clinic in Petionville on January 12, 2010 in P

hide captionA woman faints in the arms of a medic in an emergency clinic in Petionville on January 12, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, long active in the country, just reported on the devastation in Port-au-Prince and the problems providing care to the huge number of seriously injured people.

In conference call with the media, Paul McPhun, Doctors Without Borders' coordinator for Haiti, said all three health facilities the group operated in the Haitian capital are out of commission. One collapsed and the others were so badly damaged by Tuesday's earthquake that they had to be abandoned. For now the group is providing care from tents.

"Everywhere we go there's a massive demand from people to help with trapped family members and severe injuries," McPhun said. The group is seeing many people with traumatic injuries, crush wounds and head injuries. But without functioning hospitals, it's not possible to provide the surgical care that people need, he said. "The best we can offer now is first aid care and stabilization."

The group's top priority is re-establishing working hospitals to deal with the injured. "We don't have the infrastructure to support surgery right now," he said. "We need surgical care."

Separately, NPR received e-mail from Ian Rawson, an American in Haiti who helps the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, about a two-hour drive from Port-au-Prince under normal conditions. Injured people from the capital to the still-functioning hospital.

Here are some excerpts:

We were not affected by the shocks; they were very light out here in the Artibonite Valley...

Overnight, we began to receive patients from the outskirts of PauP, where there are 2 and 3-story buildings such as schools, which have collapsed. Right now, we have more than 40 such patients, and we have closed the hospital to clinic patients....

We have a mass-casualty protocol which was put into place early this AM, and we are managing all cases well. The corridors are filled with patients in gurneys and benches; there is a line of beds going to the radiology and lab, and another waiting outside the operating suite. Haitians endure trauma with resilience; their families wait quietly and patiently outside, and we try to get out to provide reports as soon as possible to them. Haiti has a long history with natural disasters; floods, hurricanes, and mudslides. With each one, we see the limits of the formal infrastructure, and admire the resilience of the informal network of family and neighbors.

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