Haiti’s biggest hospital still not built 10 years after quake

A decade after France and the U.S. promised to build Haiti a new hospital following the 2010 earthquake, the General Hospital remains mired in problems and concerns about sustainability. By Jose A. Iglesias

While transmission of the novel coronavirus is still in the early stages in Haiti, global health authorities are worried that the deadly pandemic could unleash civil unrest and an even deeper humanitarian crisis in the country, not to mention thousands of deaths.

“There is real danger of a large scale outbreak followed further by a humanitarian crisis in Haiti,” Dr. Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, said Tuesday. “There is the real risk that growing food insecurity will result in famine.”

And the lack of food could give rise to social unrest, she added.

Health experts in Haiti have been working with models that suggest the country could see a death toll of 20,000 or more, with 432,000 infected Haitians in need of hospitalization. This would require 9,000 hospital beds that the poverty-stricken country currently does not have.

Such projections and the mounting concerns about the country’s lack of preparation are further compounded by a lack of availability of medical supplies, the country’s ongoing political crisis and polarization, and many Haitians’ refusal to accept that the pandemic, which has already killed more than 80,000 people in the hemisphere, including in the United States and Canada, is real.

“People believe that the pandemic is political gimmickry and they do not appreciate the severity,” Etienne said. “In fact… they have physically obstructed access to the setting up of COVID hospital facilities, threatening to burn them down and also to attack health care workers.”

“The ongoing threat to hospitals and the safety of community health care workers is also of great concern,” added Etienne, who devoted part of her weekly press briefing on the situation of COVID-19 in the region to focus attention on Haiti.

Haiti so far has only 100 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the flu-like virus, compared to the Dominican Republic, which has registered 8,235 infections and 346 deaths.

But with 55,000 unemployed and scared Haitian migrants expected to illegally cross the closed but porous land border between the two nations in the next two to three weeks, Etienne and others in the United Nations system are sounding the alarm.

“The situation has been described as a perfect storm approaching,” said Etienne, echoing similar concerns that have been expressed by the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Bruno Lemarquis. “There are already 17,000 Haitians who have returned from the Dominican Republic, where there is community transmission.”

Etienne said the wide discrepancy between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola, can be explained by the virus’ late arrival in Haiti, on March 19, compared to the Dominican Republic, on March 1, when the country confirmed that an Italian national had checked into a Santo Domingo hospital with symptoms. Also, the Dominican Republic normally has more than eight times the number of daily international flights than Haiti, with tourists flowing in from Italy, New York and Florida, early hot spots for the virus’ spread. continue reading…


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