Medicines running low at clinics, hospitals in Haiti

2010-01-29 13:42

DOCTORS and aid workers say treating the tens of thousands of

Haitians injured by the earthquake is taxing the country’s devastated hospitals

as well as the efforts of physicians from around the world who are providing

emergency care.

Basic medical supplies such as antibiotics and painkillers are

running dangerously low at some hospitals and clinics in the capital,

Port-au-Prince, and in the countryside, alarming doctors who are struggling to

keep up with the demand.

Dr Nancy Fleurancois, a volunteer at the damaged hospital in the

coastal town of Jacmel, told a visiting UN official that her team was treating

500 people a day – many for the first time since the January 12 earthquake – and

desperately needed antibiotics and surgical supplies.

“People come here and they are at death’s door,” said Fleurancois,

a Haitian American from Newark, Delaware. “More help is needed.”

The doctor got to air her concerns to Anthony Banbury, the deputy

head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, during his tour of Jacmel, where

more than 20 000 people have been left homeless.

Banbury said he would try to alleviate Fleurancois’s shortages, but

there was “a grave need” for medicines all over Haiti.

Aid workers say the need for medicines comes third – behind water

and tents for shelter from the blistering tropical sun and the looming


All three are not reaching people simultaneously for the same

reason: The need is so great and it is just not possible to get supplies into

Haiti and distribute it fast enough in a country with ruined


The struggle to treat people comes amid warnings of a potential

public health calamity, with tens of thousands of Haitians living in squalid

camps around the capital.

“The health-care system in Haiti has been terribly affected by the

earthquake,” said Joe Lowry, a spokesperson for the International Federation of

the Red Cross.

“Medical staff have been killed and injured, hospitals destroyed

and stocks damaged and depleted.”

Marcela Sauza, regional director of the Latin America and Caribbean

office of the United Nations Population Fund, said Haiti’s maternal mortality

rate – already by far the highest in the western hemisphere – was expected to

jump this year because more pregnant women lacked adequate nutrition and health

care and were stressed by the earthquake and its aftermath.

Even as aid and emergency workers poured in from around the world,

it was easy to find aid workers struggling to keep up with demand.

The UN estimates the quake injured about 200 000 people, including

thousands who required amputation of damaged limbs followed by post-operative

care to prevent infection.

At the chaotic General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, amputees groan

in pain while recovering in canvas tents in the courtyard of the damaged


There was a shortage of painkillers as well as crutches,

wheelchairs and physical therapy equipment, said Dr Bob Norris, who leads an

International Medical Corps team of physicians.

“We have a country full of people with new amputations who have to

learn how to live their lives,” Norris said.

At the Bernard Mevs Hospital near the airport, Kathleen Sejour, a

hospital administrator, said they were short of such basic supplies as gloves,

gauze and antiseptic as well as malaria medicine and treatment for


“Malaria is becoming a big problem and we do not have enough

anti-malaria drugs. There are too many patients we are seeing who have malaria.

Most of the kids right now have it. We had a good supply, but we can’t keep up,”

Sejour said.

At a clinic in Carrefour – a part of the capital hit hard by the

quake – run by US-based ACTS World Relief and a Haitian group called Operation

Hope, volunteer Dr Laura Asher said just about everything they needed to treat

hundreds of people was lacking.

She said she had pleaded with international aid agencies and

better-funded private groups for help.

“It’s a constant need; a constant need. Every day we go out and

beg,” said Asher, from Silver Spring, Maryland, as patients waited in the shade

of the front yard of the clinic, which has been set up in a house.

To be sure, there are any number of small groups providing badly

needed medical aid, and not all are running low.

Dr Margaret Degand, who runs a private clinic in Petionville, said

she had been inundated with patients after the earthquake and ran out of

supplies, but her stocks were replenished by a French humanitarian


Sandra Murillo, a Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman in New York,

said the aid group was doing well with medical equipment and supplies.

The group was working on plans to create a post-operative facility

for 100 patients to provide therapy and psychological assistance for about 100

people at a time. It would be in tents because many people were still too afraid

to be inside a building, she said.

The International Federation of the Red Cross also has plenty of

supplies, but even some of the largest institutions are feeling the


Air Force General Douglas Fraser, head of the US military’s

Southern Command, said that US Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort had reached its

“care limit” after treating more than 3 000 people.

US authorities are now planning a new treatment centre for up to 5

000 patients on land provided by the Haitian government.

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