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PAHO Briefing on Haiti Earthquake Response - 15 January 2010

Remarks by Dr. Jon Andrus, PAHO Deputy Director

Sixty-six hours, or nearly three days after the event, we are still dealing with a rapidly evolving disaster. Today I will update you with what we know and continue to do so as the picture becomes clearer.

Search and rescue efforts continue at a frantic pace. Every hour counts when people are trapped under rubble.

To complicate matters, communication on the ground remains extremely difficult. This is making the collection of real-time data incredibly challenging.

A PAHO/WHO health assessment is being finalized today. Key findings of health risks include: ensuring surgical and medical care, obstetrical and neonatal care, adequate referral of patients with life-threatening conditions to facilities that can adequately address them, shelter, safe water and sanitation, preventive mass vaccination, and management of malnutrition. We are also working on ensuring basic primary health care services such as the provision of TB and HIV medications for those in need.

Our PAHO/WHO ground staff have made their operating headquarters at the medicine and vaccine storage warehouse complex near the airport. They will be positioned to provide better management of essential medications and vaccines.

In addition, PAHO is establishing a field office in Jimani, located an hour and half from the city in the Dominican Republic to serve as a bridge for the management of supplies and medical relief teams. In other words this office will be a staging point for emergency support. You can imagine the difficulties in coordinating fuel, food, water, human resources, and medical supplies amongst the devastation of the city. So having this staging point was a strategic decision made by our director and our technical team.

We still do not know or have clear estimates of the numbers of dead or injured. A variety of sources are estimating the number of  deaths to be between 50,000 and 100,000 people.

Bodies are being placed in the streets. The UN is the agency that is trying to manage dead bodies. They are collecting the bodies and taking them to a central location at their headquarters. In the last two press briefings I have reviewed in detail critical aspects of dead body management. You can find our technical guidelines on PAHO's website.

The airport remains intermittently opened and closed. All planes landing must be self-sufficient. They must be capable of unloading their own passengers and equipment. That includes ladders for the medical teams to disembark.

Roads from the border town of Jimani in the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince appear to be open. Supplies are arriving by tarmac too. The Dominican Republic and Jamaica have accepted and are caring for an overflow of injured patients from the country.

The regional and global response has been extraordinary. Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere and ranks 154 on the United Nations index, so what little government infrastructure existed has been wiped out. Therefore, external support that is well-managed and well-coordinated is absolutely essential in these early phases.

In the Americas, at least 13 countries have confirmed the deployment of medical teams. In addition, six countries have sent search and rescue teams. Many PAHO/WHO member countries are also providing funds and supplies. Others are awaiting reports on the assessment of needs so to best direct their support.

Countries in our Region recognize that this must be a regional response. Haiti is everyone's neighbor. No one country alone can conduct the response, we must all do our parts. And, indeed, the response from countries has been phenomenal.

And, again I cannot stress enough how important it is for medical teams to be self-sufficient.

We continue to be struck by the fact that virtually almost every person we talk to has some story of how a friend, friend of a friend, or indeed a family member has been some how affected by the crisis in Haiti.

Two of our PAHO national staff in Port-au-Prince have suffered family deaths.

Internally at PAHO here in Washington we have been worried sick about a headquarter colleague of ours. Her husband had been working in Haiti when the quake struck. She only learned last at midnight, more than two days after the event, that her husband had been rescued and was alive. What a tremendous relief. It serves to remind us that almost everyone in some way has been affected by what is happening in Haiti.

At this phase of the crisis, we have 2 major concerns: searching and rescuing trapped victims who may still be alive, and to that end several teams and missions are working. Other teams are arriving as we speak.

Our other major concern right now is the coordination of the health response, basically how we can best use the wide range of life-saving resources and skills coming into Haiti.

I would like to repeat, as I mentioned yesterday, that PAHO has guidelines on how to be a good donor partner. These guidelines are available on PAHO's website at

I will stop there and welcome any questions that you might have. Again, thank you for your time and consideration.


Mise à jour le Mercredi, 17 Novembre 2010 15:46

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