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Briefing by Dr. Mirta Roses, PAHO Director and Director of the WHO Regional Office for the Americas, to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. Dr. Roses reported on the Pan American Health Organization's response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti after the January 12 earthquake. PAHO leads the U.N. Health Cluster.

126th WHO Executive Board - Special Session on HAITI

Geneva, Switzerland / Washington DC. USA.
January 19, 2010.

PAHO Director briefing session on Haiti
*Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, Director,
Pan American Health Organization.

Mr. Chairman, Honorable Ambassador from Haiti, Director-General and distinguished Executive Board Members:

This devastating natural disaster of unprecedented scale has compounded an already extremely challenging health situation in the most vulnerable country in AMRO. Our hearts and our actions are with the people of Haiti. The response required by us and the significant responsibilities we have as lead agency of the Health Cluster demand enormous resources. Staff is working around the clock in many locations at the global, regional and country levels using all available resources to respond rapidly and effectively. Throughout these first six days since the earthquake, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of good will from Member States in the Region and all over the world, as well as from our WHO colleagues around the world, who offer support, supplies, expertise and funds. We are very grateful for this demonstration of solidarity and generosity. We recognize the support from all the WHO Regional Directors and the Director-General and colleagues from WHO/Headquarters.

As the health arm of the inter-American system, we are liaising with the Organization of American States, as well as with the team of Regional Directors of UN agencies.

Let me give you a quick overview

PAHO/WHO is fortunate that no casualties among staff have been reported so far. The Country Office in Haiti was partially damaged by the quake, and a structural assessment is underway to determine its safety. The staff is now working out of PROMESS, the central pharmaceutical supply warehouse, managed by PAHO since 1992. A new field office has been established in Jimaní, Dominican Republic, at the border with Haiti. The PAHO office in the Dominican Republic is currently supporting the Ministry of Health to strengthen its border health services and generous response, and also providing logistical support to Haiti.

Besides the Dominican Republic, other Caribbean countries are also receiving evacuated patients, including Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Martinique, and USA.

In addition to a massive internal displacement of people away from Port-au-Prince, refugees are also fleeing into the Dominican Republic and other neighboring Caribbean countries.

On the ground, communication and transportation remain incredibly difficult and the bare necessities, such as food, water, and fuel, are scarce. Rubble and dead bodies clog the streets. These conditions are imposing enormous difficulties in identifying open spaces for field hospitals and temporary shelters as well as for managing the supply and distribution of the massive amounts of aid that generous people and organizations are pouring into the country.

What has been our role in support to Haiti

PAHO and WHO have sent an additional team of 20 health, logistics and communications experts to coordinate the health response to the disaster and to provide support in mass casualty management, management of dead bodies and other immediate emergency needs. This major disaster requires an exceptional response. We are mobilizing all levels (all country and regional offices as well as HQs) to meet the overwhelming challenges of bringing humanitarian assistance to Haiti, one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world.

As mentioned by the Director-General, flights are en route to Haiti carrying medicines and supplies from WHO stocks that can treat 165,000 people for one month, plus drugs and equipment to treat 1,000 people with trauma injuries. All of these health/medical/water and sanitation supplies will require logistical support of PAHO/WHO in both Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic in order to manage transport, storage and distribution.


Assessment teams coordinated by PAHO/WHO are visiting hospitals and healthcare facilities to determine where essential health services are still available and what is needed to restore them elsewhere. Information from the assessment missions includes: " At least eight hospitals and healthcare facilities destroyed or damaged in and around Port-au-Prince, Leogane, Jacmel. " Still-operating hospitals have been quickly overwhelmed by large numbers of survivors needing care, particularly for trauma injuries, but also approximately 150-200 birth deliveries a day occurring daily. " Facilities are operating with the help of non-governmental organizations, sometimes with two or more NGOs working in the same facility. " Patients treated for injuries or other health problems at various health centers in the Dominican Republic along Haiti's border, while some injured are being evacuated out of Haiti. " To date, epidemiological reports indicate that there is no increase in reportable diseases, either within Haiti or along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic (remember this country and the Region are fortunately free of polio, cholera and close to free from measles)


PAHO/WHO is leading the health cluster, and four daily meetings have already taken place under challenging conditions of physical space. More than 21 partner agencies have participated. We also participate in the inter-cluster meeting and in the Humanitarian Forum under the UN Resident coordination leadership.

LSS/SUMA, the Logistics Supply Management System, has been established in Jimani to coordinate the arrival of humanitarian supplies. A satellite hub has been set up at the airport in Port-au-Prince to capture information on donations arriving there and another will soon open at the airport in the Santo Domingo, which is handling an increasing operational load. The health cluster plans to use this information to determine supply gaps and distribution priorities.

The Health Cluster has assessed six hospitals, and at least 15 more hospitals have been visually assessed using post-earthquake satellite imagery. In some cases, results are positive; buildings can and are already being re-occupied.

The Health Cluster is coordinating the arrival/deployment of field hospitals. Multiple field hospitals are operating and others are on the way to Haiti. An Argentinean military hospital was already part of MINUSTAH operations and continues to function, strengthened by teams from Chile and Colombia. An Israeli mobile field hospital is fully operational as a referral hospital. Russia, Spain and Nicaragua have set up military hospitals and new field hospitals are arriving from Mexico, Turkey, France, MSF, Indonesia, and USA. The Minister of Health,

Dr. Alex Larsen, is alive and leading the emergency health plan. Medical teams sent by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, among others, are also on the ground. Yesterday blood was received from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic and a medicines supply from Reina Sofía Foundation.

PAHO/WHO's Emergency Operations Center (EOC)

PAHO's EOC in Washington is staffed with some 20 public health, communications and logistics specialists. In addition to coordinating flow of information, preparing press briefings, organizing the deployment of experts to the field, they are working to update an old database of health facilities in Haiti, and compile new entries, gather field reports from the Health Cluster on damage to health facilities, and assess operational status by means of post-earthquake satellite imagery.

The EOC is coordinating with the Global Health Cluster for better coordinated action and also with UN agencies for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) information.

A first summit took place yesterday in Santo Domingo called by the President of the Dominican Republic and attended by the Vice-president of Spain as chair of the European Union, Prime Ministers from Bahamas, Barbados and Dominica representing the CARICOM, OAS Secretary General, and President Preval of Haiti.

A preliminary donors meeting on reconstruction will take place on 25 January in Montreal, Canada and a World Summit for Haiti is being called in Madrid, possibly, on 17-18 May. This will represent the most critical action for the future of Haiti.

Tomorrow an OAS mission will travel to Haiti with the PAHO Head of Disaster Management and I am travelling on Thursday to the Dominican Republic and moving into Haiti over the weekend with the Minister of Health, Dr. Bautista Rojas.


PAHO/WHO team has accomplished a lot in these first six days of the response but much remains to be done. An unprecedented number of people have been rescued, but we are mourning many more Haitians and colleagues, civilians, and military. Now more than ever we must work together as ONE WHO and one UN for the benefit of the people of Haiti, our poorest Member State. We must try to look beyond this crisis and use this as an opportunity to build a sustainable and robust health system to protect the future generations of Haitians.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 21 January 2010 14:58

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