Health Crisis in Haiti

Frank Bajak (Puerto Rico Daily Sun) reports that the second stage of Haiti’s medical emergency has begun, with diarrheal illnesses, acute respiratory infections, and malnutrition beginning to claim lives by the dozen. He stresses that while many people survived Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake, many of these survivors have succumbed to “its miserable aftermath.” He writes that while the half-million people jammed into germ-breeding makeshift camps have so far been spared a contagious-disease outbreak, health officials fear epidemics. They are rushing to vaccinate 530,000 children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. Some deaths have also been caused by violence bred of food shortages, desperation, and inadequate security. Here are excerpts from the article:

“It’s still tough,” said Chris Lewis, emergency health coordinator for Save the Children, which by Tuesday had treated 11,000 people at 14 mobile clinics in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Leogane. “At the moment we’re providing lifesaving services. What we’d like to do is to move to provide quality, longer-term care, but we’re not there yet.”

Haiti’s government raised the death toll for the Jan. 12 earthquake to 230,000 on Tuesday—the same death toll as the 2004 Asian tsunami. Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said she expects the toll to rise as more bodies are counted, and noted the number does not include bodies buried privately by funeral homes or families.

The number of deaths not directly caused by the quake is unclear; U.N. officials are only now beginning to survey the more than 200 international medical aid groups working out of 91 hospitals—most of them just collections of tents—to compile the data. Some 300,000 people are injured. At Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital, patients continue arriving with infections in wounds they can’t keep clean because the street is their home. The number of amputees, estimated at 2,000 to 4,000 by Handicap International, keeps rising as people reach Port-au-Prince with untreated fractures.

Nearly a month after the quake, respiratory infections, malnutrition, diarrhea from waterborne diseases and a lack of appropriate food for young children may be the biggest killers, health workers say. A shortage of medical equipment and spotty electrical power—service has been restored to about 20 percent of Port-au-Prince—have worsened the medical emergency.

Forty-seven percent of Haiti’s population of more than 9 million is under age 18. The Caribbean country has the Western Hemisphere’s highest birth rate and its highest child and maternal mortality rates. Haiti also has the hemisphere’s highest malnutrition rate—with some 17,500 children under age 5 acutely malnourished even before the quake, according to UNICEF. At a Save the Children clinic west of the capital, about 30 people stood in line for help. Camp residents subsisting in part on plantains from an adjacent grove said two adults and five children died of starvation there last week.

For full article, see

Photo from Zanmi Lasanté (Partners in Health) at

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