Medical Treatment, Shelter Top Needs In Haiti

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Two weeks after the Haiti earthquake, the rescue phase is over and the humanitarian crisis is evolving. Officials on the ground say with more than one million internally displaced persons, medical treatment and shelter have become greater needs than food. Looming over the humanitarian crisis is the arrival of the Caribbean rainy season in April.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And Im Ari Shapiro, filling in for Renee Montagne.

It has now been two weeks since Haitis earthquake and the international approach to the country is evolving.

INSKEEP: We have two reports this morning. In a moment, well hear from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sat down with Michele Kelemen to talk about raising money to rebuild the country.

SHAPIRO: But first, in Haiti where more than one million people have been displaced, officials are now looking toward longer term issues such as extended medical care and shelter for the homeless.

NPRs John Burnett spent the day with U.S. relief officials and sent this report.

JOHN BURNETT: Killick Point is a Haitian Coast Guard station about six miles off the coast from Port-au-Prince, shaded by mango and palm trees. Today, its the site a mobile clinic set up by the U.S. Armys joint taskforce, Bravo, out of Honduras. Colonel Marie Dominguez is the doctor in charge here, where more than a thousand patients have been treated since the earthquake. She stands over a man lying on his stomach on a hospital bed with a hole in his back.

Colonel MARIE DOMINGUEZ (Medical Element Commander, Bravo): This is a gentleman who had a small wound on the day of the earthquake and he came in and he's got a big abscess on his back, which needs to be cleaned out, packed with dressing, changed everyday.

BURNETT: Dominguez says they dont see as many patients coming in with life and death wounds like before. Its been long enough that people have either gotten better from say, a crushed chest wound, or they've died.

Col. DOMINGUEZ: And now, what we are really starting to see is a lot of infections coming in as well, you know, where people had a small wound or prick and then it's gotten infected, pussing(ph) out on them.

BURNETT: The U.S. military medical mission is overwhelmed. The Navy hospital ship, the USS Comfort, is filled with patients, as are the hospitals on-board an aircraft carrier and a helicopter carrier floating in the water off the Haitian coast. The 22 hospitals in Port-au-Prince are overflowing with earthquake victims. So, the plan is for the U.S. military to erect a convalescent care tent city as soon as this week, to get post-op patients off the ships and make room for more critical care cases.

Dr. RICH ELLISON (Chief Surgeon, Joint Task Force in Haiti, U.S. Military): Some people are ready to go home. And, of course, the problem is they dont have a home to go to.

BURNETT: Dr. Rich Ellison, the chief surgeon for the U.S. militarys joint taskforce Haiti says they are already preparing a piece of land, 10 miles north of the capital. He says the field hospital will start with 250 beds.

Dr. ELLISON: Its going to be like "M*A*S*H." Its going to be tents, cots, you know, food, water, things that they need, that we want them to be comfortable, but we dont want them to go home yet.

BURNETT: Looming over the humanitarian crisis is the arrival of the Caribbean rainy season in April. Haitians who lost their homes are living completely exposed to the elements, perhaps under a thin cotton sheet to protect them from the sun. USAID recently sent in some 10,000 rolls of plastic sheeting for makeshift shelters, says former ambassador Lewis Lucke. He's the U.S. governments coordinator for relief and recovery in Haiti.

Mr. LEWIS LUCKE (Coordinator, U.S. Government Relief And Recovery In Haiti): We are scrambling as hard as we can. We have received tremendous number of rolls of plastic sheeting, we are cutting it up and we are distributing it, and we are getting it out as quickly as we can with the use of Haitian labor.

BURNETT: And there's another deadline facing the aid providers: the expectation of a population that needs everything. Lieutenant General Ken Keen is the commander of JTF, Haiti.

Lieutenant General KEN KEEN (Commander, JTF, Haiti): Clearly, if we are unable to respond - and I say we, the international community, the United Nations, to meet the needs of the people - then there would be growing unrest.

BURNETT: The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit has set up camps in the sleepy coastal town of Petit Goave, where half the village was destroyed. They are about to begin distributing aid any day now, but town folk gathered around the landing zone are impatient.

Unidentified Man #1(Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: When will you start to distribute food, and water, and tents?

BURNETT: A man demands, when will you start to distribute food, water and tents. The Marines guarding the landing zone are unfazed by the demanding crowd. Everything is relative, they've all done two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan where snipers and roadside bombs are a daily threat. Lance Corporal William Berdahoe(ph), from Passaic, New Jersey, wearing a cloth cap and light body armor, is asked about his surprise deployment to Haiti.

Lance Corporal WILLIAM BERDAHOE (U.S. Army): Beautiful. You don't gotta worry about getting shot or nothing. You know you're going home for a fact. You know, I worry about home. I will probably make it home this time. Its nice coming here and helping out the people.

BURNETT: In fact, the Marine seemed to be enjoying their Haitian holiday before they have to go back to war-fighting.

John Burnett, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

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