Thursday, January 14, 2010

MSF's efforts to heal the wounded in Haiti

For our next summary of the rescue efforts in Haiti we are going to focus on the work of Médecins Sans Frontières. The medical aid organization is struggling to heal survivors in Port-au-Prince. It's is a gargantuan task, for the earthquake destroyed all of the city's hospitals, including those operated by MSF.

First, an interview with MSF operations manager for Haiti Dr. Greg Elder.

MSF already had resources on the ground, functioning medical facilities in Haiti. Are these medical facilities still functioning, and how are you getting more resources in?

We have three hospital structures—a trauma center and a maternity hospital included—and nearly 800 staff on the ground in Port-au-Prince. Those facilities structurally had been so badly damaged we had to evacuate patients out of those facilities onto the neighboring grounds. But we’ve been able to set up some tented first-aid centers during the day today. Those centers obviously have been overwhelmed, exhausted already. Our teams have treated more than 1,000 wounded people, including open fractures and other injuries, at our makeshift facilities in the capital.

In Port-au-Prince the health system is rather fragile and the hospitals we visited during the evening and during the day on Wednesday have been overwhelmed. So we are trying to fill a gap in the short-term and then reinforce our teams by dispatching another 70 international staff over the next few days, including several surgical teams. A charter flight will leave on Thursday with all the equipment necessary to establish a 100-bed inflatable tent hospital with two operating rooms. Two surgical teams are leaving from Miami, Florida, on Thursday morning to provide some additional support on the ground.

Can you give us a sense of the scope of this damage?

Port-au-Prince is a very congested city with a high population and a relatively poor infrastructure. Before the earthquake, Port-au-Prince, a city of 3.5 million people of which half live in slums, had 21 public health facilities including four hospitals. The public health system was marginally functional before this disaster and is not able to cope with an emergency of this magnitude, and it will depend on international support and international organizations to be able to fill the gap.

So it's a really catastrophic event where absolutely no one knows really what the scope of this is in terms of casualties and fatalities. It will be some time before anyone can tell that because people are buried under the rubble.

Dr. Elder was interviewed on last night's PBS News Hour.

Finally an article on the inflatable hospitals that MSF is installing in Port-au-Prince to temporarily replace their downed structures.

More than 1,000 patients have received care in the four tented facilities MSF set up near the damaged buildings in which it had been working. The primary concern at the moment is the overwhelming numbers of people who need immediate treatment and major surgery. An MSF team is beginning to work in the operating theater of a major public hospital in the capital’s Cite Soleil district, while other MSF staff are trying to identify additional medical structures that remain intact.

An inflatable MSF field hospital, equipped with two operating theatres, is expected to arrive by air in the next 24 hours. Crucial personnel, including surgeons and anesthetists, and supplementary stocks of medical supplies are on the way as well.

Food, water and shelter materials are all in short supply, however. "Basic provisions were always problematic for people in Port-au-Prince but the position is far worse now," said Vincent Hoedt, one of MSF's emergency coordinators. "And obviously there's a concern for people who are already weakened by injuries. There are also shortages of things like gasoline, which affects the working of all kinds of vital equipment."

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