Tribulations Of A Disaster Medical Team In Haiti

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U.S. government disaster medical teams continue to face major obstacles getting doctors and nurses into the scene of last week's earthquake. Part of a team was stranded at a staging area Monday because drivers said it was quitting time and refused to take the doctors into central Port-au-Prince. Overall, these disaster medical teams have been stymied by a lack of sufficient security to escort them to the wounded and dying.


In the short term, those hurt in the earthquake are still struggling with injuries and the threat of disease. NPRs Joanne Silberner is with a medical team that has just set up a field clinic in Port-au-Prince.

JOANNE SILBERNER: I am in a partially destroyed technical school thats right next to this soccer field. There are about 2,000 people there. Theyve been there since the quake, living out in the open. Theyre very patient, and theyre very hopeful. One of the things they were doing last night was chanting. They were chanting: The earth shook, and God gave us another chance. And the hope is that this hospital will be their next chance.

MONTAGNE: How many people are being treated? How severe are the injuries?

SILBERNER: Well, this is the first U.S. government health clinic to open. It opened yesterday morning. The people they have been seeing have been mostly people with broken bones - that have been broken for a long time, or crush injuries. And whats going to be coming up, everyone's worried about, is the infectious diseases that you get when you're living in crowded and unsanitary conditions. And that could be a second disaster.

MONTAGNE: When you talk about infectious diseases, what exactly are you taking about?

SILBERNER: That would be mostly the diarrheal diseases. You know, when you cant get to clean water to clean yourself, and when you cant drink, when theres no clean water to drink, thats prime territory for diarrheal diseases.

MONTAGNE: Which, in those conditions, can be deadly - especially for children.

SILBERNER: Absolutely. And the other thing that can be deadly for children is dehydration. You know, again, its all about water. And Port-au-Prince didnt have that good an infrastructure, both governmentally and physically, before the quake, and now its severely burdened.

MONTAGNE: Back to the people that are being treated there, finally: Can you tell us the sort of the thing that you're seeing, you know, people who have obviously been suffering for days now?

SILBERNER: There are some very somber people around, and they have been living with these severe injuries, painful injuries. Last night, I saw a woman with two broken legs. They were terribly swollen. There were some lacerations on her legs. They had given her some morphine, and she was laying there quietly. Her husband was there as well, and they were just quiet and appreciative of the care they were given.

And by the way, if you hear a rooster in the background, that's because these tents have been set up in a courtyard that seems to be owned by this particular rooster.

MONTAGNE: Right. And we're speaking to you outside, I guess, also near a generator which has been brought in.

SILBERNER: That's right. This medical team brings in a lot of stuff. They bring, you know, they bring in the operating room. They bring in the gurneys, just everything you - well, almost everything you would see in a regular operating room - not quite. They don't have an x-ray machine.

One thing I should say is that they're not going to be able to treat everything they see. More people are going to die, and it may be worse in Haiti than after disasters in other places. Like when they had the earthquake in Bam, Iran, there was a sophisticated medical system, and they were able to put that back into place. Here, there was nothing to begin with.

MONTAGNE: Joanne, thanks very much, and we'll be talking to you again.

SILBERNER: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR health correspondent Joanne Silberner, speaking to us from new medical facilities just set up alongside a soccer field in Port-au-Prince.

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