Haiti, already overwhelmed by political instability, gang violence, economic collapse, and food insecurity, is reeling from another devastating crisis.
On Saturday, the Caribbean nation experienced a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that killed at least 1,300 people – the death toll is expected to rise – and injured thousands more.
And as rescue workers rush to pull people from the wreckage of buildings, and doctors work long shifts to care for people hurt by the quake, another threat hovers off the coast.
Tropical Depression Grace, currently making its way through the Caribbean, threatens Haiti with flooding and mudslides. The storm could complicate the work of search-and-rescue teams and other first responders, and add additional damage to a country already hit hard by repeated catastrophe.
Even today, Haiti is still feeling the effects of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck in January of 2010, killing more than 220,000 people. Although international response in the wake of the event was widespread, and Haiti’s health care system has been strengthened in the meantime, unrest, violence, and Covid-19 have interfered with ongoing support efforts.
A recent wave of Covid-19 in Haiti left crowded hospitals rushing to care for severely ill patients, even as doctors reported that many people were dying undiagnosed at home due to both stigma and violence on the streets. “They’re running the risk of being shot, so they just stay at home and they don’t go to hospitals,” one doctor told Direct Relief.
Even before the quake, a doctor said, “I’ve seen a lot of people dying because of lack of access to surgery” and other medical care.
The organization’s partners reported that gang violence and political unrest were also making it difficult to get medical supplies, even oxygen for Covid-19 patients, to medical facilities.
Direct Relief’s Response
Direct Relief has staff on the ground in Haiti, as well as firmly established relationships with a number of local partners and with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional branch of the World Health Organization.
Currently, emergency medical modules that Direct Relief pre-positioned in the region are being deployed from Port-au-Prince with medical teams to affected areas, to meet the overwhelming need for medical attention. Each module contains significant quantities of the medicines and supplies that Haitian health facilities and doctors are currently requesting: antibiotics, wound care items, and medical outreach packs, among other aid.
Additional Direct Relief emergency medical modules are being routed to Haiti from the organization’s Puerto Rico warehouse and from PAHO’s Panama facility.
At Direct Relief’s California distribution hub, 21 pallets of critical medical items have been staged, in anticipation of being transported by chartered aircraft this week.
When the earthquake struck, Direct Relief had three ocean freight containers of PPE and other medical supplies already en route to Haiti. These supplies are on their way to the Haiti-based organizations Partners in Health, St. Boniface Hospital, and St. Damien Hospital.
In total, more than $6.1 million worth of aid, totaling 115,000 pounds, is either in Haiti or being routed there now.
This response is only the beginning. Direct Relief is currently coordinating with a coalition of responders, including University of Miami Doctors, Partners in Health, St. Boniface Hospital, St. Luke’s Foundation/St. Damien Hospital, PAHO, and the Haitian Global Health Alliance (GHESKIO), as well as the organization’s own regional staff in Haiti.
Currently, the primary challenge is transporting medical aid on the ground within Haiti. Road closures, landslides, and gang activity make ground transportation treacherous. However, Direct Relief has worked in Haiti for several decades with on-the-ground partners and is working to navigate these obstacles on the ground.