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PAHO Briefing on Haiti Earthquake Response - 19 January 2010

Remarks by Dr. Jon Andrus, PAHO Deputy Director

Today I would like to report again on what we know about the earthquake that struck Haiti one week ago causing massive devastation and loss of life, and provide comments on the subsequent response by all our partners. 

A week after the quake, there are still no final numbers of fatalities. But Haitian government authorities reported today to WHO that 70,000 bodies have been buried and 200,000 people so far have killed in the earthquake. MINUSTAH, the Red Cross and the Haitian government have collected most of the bodies.

The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, OCHA, reports that search and rescue teams have rescued a total of 90 people, a record for rescues following an earthquake.

At least 46 international personnel serving with the United Nations in Haiti have been confirmed dead, and dozens--including peacekeepers from the U.N. Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH)--remain unaccounted for. 

Today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the General Assembly Building in New York in honor of the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. The ceremony will begin at 4:50 p.m. and the Secretary-General will call for a minute of silence throughout the U.N. system worldwide at 4:53 p.m. New York time to coincide with the time the earthquake struck.

As we have all seen, the international response to the quake in Haiti has been extraordinary. More than 36 countries and dozens of humanitarian organizations have already sent in-kind and monetary donations to Haiti. Former U.S. President Clinton, the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, has mobilized a number of corporations for relief operations.

Currently, more than 30 teams, including from local and international organizations, and from 13 countries in the Americas plus others from other regions, are supporting government efforts to treat the injured and ill.

One of the urgent health needs is the need for blood. Haiti's National Blood Centre building was damaged, and some equipment may need to be replaced.

Just yesterday, one of our PAHO staff arrived in Haiti carrying 50 units of blood, and the PROMESS Warehouse run by PAHO/WHO received 200 units of blood and 600 of plasma from the Ministry of Health of Bolivia, and nearly 100 units from the Dominican Republic.

The Director of Haiti's Blood Transfusion Service, Dr. Noel, is coordinating blood stocks at the National Public Health Laboratory (which is in good condition), but refrigerators are needed for storage. Noel is also trying to coordinate nation-wide blood collection but is hampered by the lack of telecommunications.

On the ground, communication, coordination, information management and logistics continue to be extremely difficult, posing a major challenge to delivery of relief. This is true despite some signs of improvement, including the clearing of formerly blocked roads and a few supermarkets opening.

International organizations are arriving in Haiti with different supplies, personnel and capabilities but with inadequate logistics. Cargos are being deposited at the airport runway with little or no provision for their transportation or storage.

Although more U.N. staff are needed urgently, the U.N. is finding it difficult to provide food, water and accommodation for the staff who are already in the country.  We know that accommodation at the U.N. logistics base has reached its saturation point. 

The United Nations has formed a number of clusters covering different aspects of the relief response. They include clusters focusing on food, water and sanitation, shelter, health, and logistics. PAHO/WHO is coordinating the cluster on health. All these clusters are meeting daily to coordinate their activities.

Other clusters that are just beginning to be launched include ones for agriculture, nutrition, early recovery, emergency telecommunications, and camp coordination.

Managing the flow of supplies flooding into Haiti continues to be a major problem.

The Logistics Cluster has recommended that Santo Domingo be used as the primary entry point for humanitarian relief until full capacity is re-established at Port-au-Prince airport.

However, the airport at the capital and the road from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince are becoming increasingly congested, and the logistics capacity of the Dominican Republic is under severe stress.

PAHO is providing drugs to all NGOs requesting them from the general pharmacy (PROMESS).

PROMESS is also procuring supplies to cope with the demand. Shipments are arriving from Santo Domingo. PAHO will continue procuring supplies from the Dominican Republic, when possible, to ensure quick availability in Haiti.

In addition, offers of donations of medicines are being received daily. Yesterday, we received a large quantity of medicines, including antibiotics from the Queen Sofia Foundation via the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation.

PAHO and UNOPS (UN office for project services) have completed an assessment in four hospitals:

  • Hôpital de la Paix
  • Canapé Vert
  • Hôpital de la Communite Haïtien
  • Hôpital Universitaire de l'Etat de Haïti

The assessment concluded that all four are in fair condition. Surgeries are being carried out by international agencies.

The State University Hospital of Haiti, the country's largest and most important, performed its first delivery and its first pediatric surgery since the quake yesterday.

A crisis management team has been created by the Hospital's Director to try to improve coordination between different NGOs working in the Hospital.

In other health facilities, surgeries are being done in the open air under very difficult circumstances.

Haiti's Ministry of Public Health has now created a National Health Commission that will be supported by the PAHO-led Health Cluster.

The National Health Commission has approved a strategy for the health response that covers three levels of health care: 

  • Community-based health services using mobile teams or brigades for immediate treatment and triage of injuries, and for post-operative follow-up;
  • Fixed health posts to be created where people are congregating, and where members of the community can go to receive care; and
  • Hospitals with surgical capability. These include hospitals already there and operating, as well as field hospitals that are being set up.


All services will be provided free of charge.

This strategy will take some of the pressure off overburdened hospitals by providing services in the community itself.

Incoming field hospitals have been targeted for three geographic areas in the city. Each area will have at least one field hospital with complete surgical capacity and the ability to provide post-operative care to surgical patients for at least 48 hours.

Health assessments are now being focused on three areas:

  • Health needs in towns outside the capital where extensive damage may have also occurred. We are receiving reports of extensive damage outside.
  • Pre-existing hospitals, to determine what they can deliver and what kind of support they require.
  • Prevention, that is, what preventive efforts are needed to avert new health crises.

The current priorities for meeting the populations' health needs are:

  • Increased surgical capacity
  • More effective coordination between and within hospitals to ensure adequate triage and transfer of patients.
  • More proactive information sharing between teams from different agencies to facilitate better coordination.
  • Improved management of hospital waste, especially biological waste.
  • Better support for the management of dead bodies.


In ending, we fully acknowledge that financial contributions to the health response are the most effective support that people around the world can provide, through reputable organizations working on the ground in Haiti. Information on donating to these efforts can be found on the PAHO web page at www.paho.org. Thank you for your time and attention.
 

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

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