|PAHO Briefing on Haiti Earthquake Response - 22 January 2010|
Jan 22 Press Briefing
Dr. Jon Andrus
PAHO Deputy Director
Today I am going to give you some updates on the health-related relief efforts and the general health situation in Haiti.
There are now more than 50 teams from different countries and organizations providing health services to sick and injured Haitians.
There are now 40 functioning health facilities in Port-au-Prince, including 8 field hospitals from different countries around the world and organizations.
The French field hospital is delivering obstetric surgical care, Brazil’s is providing neurologic and facial surgery, and Russia is providing orthopedic surgery.
The USNS Comfort ship is operating with its 1,000-bed capacity, and a team of 20 trauma experts arrived from Mexico.
PAHO’s software, SUMA, for managing humanitarian relief supplies is functioning at the airport in Port-au-Prince, and DHL—the shipping company—is helping to support that system.
We know there are now about 600 spontaneous settlements in Haiti, with about 1 million people in them, according to Red Cross estimates. Coordinating relief to reach these settlements is a high priority.
There has been some progress getting safe water to the people. We know of 75-80 water distribution sites that are currently serving about 130,000-180,000 people each day. In addition, the U.S. military said yesterday they have distributed 1.4 million bottles of water, and the Red Cross is providing water to 12,000 people in three settlements.
There are many others who are distributing water along with food, but there are gaps. We understand that Cite-Soleil, the capital’s poorest neighborhood, is facing a critical water shortage.
In the area of sanitation, PAHO/WHO is working with Haitian authorities to collect and safely dispose of hospital waste and waste from public latrines. UNICEF and others are building new latrines, and other organizations and countries, including Dubai, are sending water treatment and sanitation equipment.
The American Red Cross is sending donated blood to Haiti in coordination with PAHO/WHO and the Dominican Republic’s National Blood Program. The Dominican Republic is receiving patients requiring longer-term post-operative care, such as patients who underwent amputations and need follow-up care.
As of today, PAHO/WHO has channeled over $12 million in cash and in-kind donations to Haiti from countries and partner donors.
We have also learned that the United Nations Development Program has started a cash-for-work program to help the local economy. They are hiring Haitians to clear and repair streets, restore electricity, and other activities.
At this point in relief efforts, our top health priorities remain treating people with crush injuries, fractures, and lacerations, providing post-operative care, and preventing conditions such as acute malnutrition and dehydration, while also ensuring basic supplies, like food and water, and, importantly, security.
Untreated trauma wounds and infection of wounds are emerging as major health challenges that need priority attention.
We’ve talked about Haiti, prior to the earthquake, being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with an especially vulnerable population. Poverty breeds ill health. So our Haitian neighbors are vulnerable to a number of adverse health conditions.
Even under normal circumstances, medical care is inadequate, and there is a significant risk of infectious diseases, especially from water-borne pathogens.
To prevent the spread of water-borne diseases during this critical time, safe water is being provided and distributed as I mentioned, but this needs to be sustained while systems are rebuilt during the reconstruction phase of the response.
Affected populations are at increased risk of moderate and severe acute malnutrition, especially in vulnerable groups such as young children, pregnant and lactating mothers and older persons.
The risk can be increased by lack of support for breastfeeding and complementary feeding for mothers or caretakers. With water and sanitation systems disrupted, it becomes even more critical for mothers to rely on breastfeeding for infants rather than formula mixed with water that could easily be contaminated.
In the aftermath of disasters women and children are particularly at risk. We hope and pray that security can prevent and control violence against women, an unfortunate consequence of some disasters. We know that the rates of violence against women were already high in Haiti before the earthquake. A recent study showed one-third of women had suffered physical or sexual violence, and more than 50% of these were girls under the age of 18.
We also know from past experience that vulnerable groups, like women, girls and children, do not get the relief aid they need unless we are all proactive and make special efforts to reach out to them.
I am happy to address any questions or comments. Thank you for coming.
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization