Against the background of persistent civilian unrest, the MSF team in Haiti has visited several hospitals in the capital Port-au-Prince over the past days. They assessed the capacity for dealing with the increasing number of people wounded as a result of the ongoing political demonstrations. In January, at least 200 people got injured and 25 killed throughout the country, but no coordinated assistance to the victims was foreseen.
"The wounded who arrive in the medical structures and do not have financial means, receive first aid at the most before being sent away," says Dr Jacob Maikere, medical officer for MSF activities in the region, based in Brussels. "Mostly they are already turned away at the entrance because they don’t have the money to pay for treatment."
People are not only confronted with financial but also political constraints for access to care. Most medical structures in Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves are labelled - hardly respecting the principle of neutrality - and are either seen as governmental structures or as for the opposition. During the assessment however, the MSF team was able to detect three hospitals where they could provide support on an impartial basis, to avoid being linked to either the government or opposition.
MSF is planning to send a medical team of two expatriates - a nurse and a surgeon - to work in two private hospitals in Port-au-Prince. Saint François de Sales Hospital is situated in the city centre, counts 111 beds and three operation theatres and serves as referral hospital for the Canapé Vert Hospital where a majority of wounded are brought and which counts 40 beds and two operation theatres.
"The aim of our presence in and collaboration with these hospitals is to enable the provision of free care for those who cannot pay," Dr Jacob Maikere continued. "We will supply the hospitals with drugs and equipment and send medical staff when needed."
Since December 2003, Haiti - this year marking 200 years of independence - has been confronted on almost daily basis with political demonstrations in the main cities, especially Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves. The demonstrators - opposition parties called "La convergence démocratique" and "184 Group" (a collection of various representatives of civil society), professional groups (such as doctors, lawyers and teachers), private sector and students - claim that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide represses dissent and has mismanaged the economy, and demand that he step down.
The university and numerous schools have been closed since the beginning of January. Port-au-Prince University Hospital, which is the only major public health hospital of the capital, has not been functional since months due to strikes and internal problems.
"The aim of our presence in and collaboration with these hospitals is to enable the provision of free care for those who cannot pay," said Dr Jacob Maikere, medical officer for MSF activities in the region. "We will supply the hospitals with drugs and equipment and send medical staff when needed."