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PAHO/WHO and Other U.N. Agencies Strive to Coordinate Aid in Haiti

Lack of logistics support among arriving medical personnel and supplies is a continuing problem

Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2010 (PAHO) — More than 36 countries and dozens of humanitarian organizations have joined the relief effort in Haiti with in-kind and monetary donations and by sending personnel, a top official of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) noted today. But the sheer volume of aid, the growing numbers of people arriving, and inadequate coordination of efforts are complicating the effective delivery of aid.

“On the ground, communication, coordination, information management and logistics continue to be extremely difficult, posing a major challenge to delivery of relief,” said Dr. Jon Andrus, Deputy Director of PAHO, in a press briefing. “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,” said Dr. Andrus. “Managing the flow of supplies flooding into Haiti continues to be a major problem.”

He said it was imperative that arriving aid teams be logistically self-sufficient and that organizations sending supplies make advance arrangements for their storage and distribution.

He provided several updates on the situation in Haiti:

  • Haitian authorities have reported to WHO that 70,000 bodies have been buried and 200,000 people so far are estimated to have died in the earthquake.
  • The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (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 MINUSTAH peacekeepers—remain unaccounted for.  
  • The U.N. Logistics Cluster has recommended that Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, be used as the primary entry point for humanitarian relief until full capacity is re-established at the Port-au-Prince airport.
  • But the airport at the capital and the road from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince are becoming increasingly congested with relief vehicles, and the logistics capacity of the Dominican Republic is under severe stress.

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

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

One of the urgent health needs is the need for blood, he said. 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,” Andrus said.

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

PAHO/WHO is providing medicines to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are requesting them from the general pharmacy, PROMESS, where PAHO/WHO has set up its temporary operational headquarters. Its in-country offices were partially destroyed by the earthquake.

PAHO/WHO is procuring shipments of supplies from Santo Domingo, helping to ensure quicker availability. In addition, PAHO/WHO is receiving offers of donations of medicines daily. Yesterday, PROMESS received a large quantity of medicines, including antibiotics from the Queen Sofia Foundation via the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation.

The State University Hospital of Haiti, the country’s largest hospital, is among the health facilities that are still operating, with the help of NGOs. Yesterday the hospital performed its first delivery and its first pediatric surgery since the earthquake. A crisis management team has been created by the hospital’s director to improve coordination between a number of different NGOs working in the hospital, Andrus said.

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

Andrus said 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.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 November 2010 15:45

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