Haiti's Cité Soleil: Treating bullet wounds and delivering babies

At present, ten international aid workers are working alongside more than 40 Haitian staff in the slum area, providing consultations, basic health care and surgery around the clock. In November around 1,000 patients called upon the MSF team, an increase of 25 per cent compared to the previous month.

Cité Soleil gets its name from the reflection of sunlight off the white houses. But the daily reality of people living in this slum area in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, is one of deprivation and violence. The consultations in the slum's Choscal Hospital, reopened by MSF in August 2005, are testimony to this harsh reality.

"In November alone, we saw 380 patients in the emergency room," said Loris de Filippi, Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Haiti. "More than one-third of them had injuries resulting from violence: gun shots or stabbing. And of the 163 surgical interventions we have had to perform so far, 15 per cent were violence-related."

There was virtually no health care for the 250,000 people living in the slum. Health facilities had been abandoned and the impoverished population was generally not able to pay the charges asked for in the Haitian health system. In December 2004, MSF opened a 56-bed trauma centre at St. Joseph's Hospital in Port-au-Prince to provide free emergency medical and surgical services to the growing number of people injured.

From August onward MSF has been working inside the slum providing the basic health care that the people of Cité Soleil had been lacking for a long time.

"It is difficult to work in this area," said De Filippi. "But we found it simply unacceptable that a population of a quarter million, the equivalent of a small European city, would be cut off from medical care. Our experience since starting work in Choscal Hospital shows clearly how great the health needs are and how urgent the need to provide care."

MSF has reopened Choscal Hospital as well as the primary health care centre of Chapi. In addition to addressing the consequences of violence, the team has been very busy providing maternal services. In November, the MSF workers in Cité Soleil assisted in 151 deliveries; a quarter of them involved life-saving caesarian sections. Some women now even come from outside the slum to find the peri-natal care they need.

"Haiti national's health system is based on a cost-recovery model. As a result, a woman is charged more than 50 US dollars for a caesarean section. This is simply unaffordable for much of the population we are assisting; generally they have to survive on less than a dollar per day," said Loris De Filippi. "The number of people who come to us for care is growing rapidly and our statistics show just how crucial it is that we provide medical care in Cité Soleil".

At present, ten international aid workers are working alongside more than 40 Haitian staff in the slum area, providing consultations, basic health care and surgery around the clock. In November around 1,000 patients called upon the MSF team, an increase of 25 per cent compared to the previous month.