Haiti: Ten years after earthquake, health structures are on the brink of collapse

Haiti: Ten years after earthquake, health structures are on the brink of collapse

As the world marks 10 years since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is paying tribute to the earthquake’s victims and highlighting the serious obstacles currently faced by health care providers and patients in Haiti.

“The catastrophic earthquake killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and destroyed 60 per cent of Haiti’s already dysfunctional health system,” said Hassan Issa, MSF Head of Mission in Haiti. “Ten years later most medical humanitarian actors have left the country and Haiti’s medical system is once again on the brink of collapse amid an escalating political and economic crisis.”

As economic troubles and political tensions have intensified, medical facilities—including those operated by MSF—are today struggling to meet the needs of patients.

“The international support that the country received in the wake of the earthquake is now mostly gone, or support that was pledged never materialised,” said Sandra Lamarque, MSF Head of Mission. “Media attention has turned elsewhere as daily life for most Haitians becomes increasingly precarious due to raging inflation, lack of economic opportunities, and regular outbreaks of violence.”

To cope with increasing unmet needs of emergency trauma care, MSF is scaling up its operations in Port-au-Prince and increasing support to medical facilities in the capital and in rural areas.

“The situation is even worse than we imagined,” Issa said. “We now need others to pay attention to the current medical needs in Haiti.”

MSF operations in Haiti

Since a hike in fuel prices in July 2018, medical facilities have struggled to provide basic services due to shortages of supplies including drugs, oxygen, blood and fuel, as well as staff shortages. Multiple months-long countrywide shutdowns in 2019, known as “peyi lok”, left streets blocked by barricades of burning tires, cables, and even walls built overnight that hindered the movement of ambulances, health care workers, medical supplies and patients.

In Delmas where MSF runs a sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) clinic, there was a drop in the number of patients during this period of heightened violence, as it was too hard for patients to reach the facility.

In rural areas, such as Port-à-Piment in the South department, the effect of the crisis on the Haitian health care system is painfully visible. In severe cases when hospitalisation is necessary, MSF now struggles to find an open facility for patient referral. The South department’s main hospital and blood bank both closed in October after being looted and are still not fully functional. MSF now regularly transports patients in critical condition up to five hours away to reach a hospital that can accept such cases.

In the North department, where MSF was about to open two SGBV clinics, activities had to pause due to access issues and lack of fuel.

In November, MSF reopened a 50-bed trauma center in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. In its first five weeks, the trauma center received an overwhelming 574 patients. One-hundred and fifty people suffering from life-threatening injuries were admitted—57 per cent of whom had gunshot wounds.

MSF has also reinforced its assistance to the Ministry of Public Health and Population by organising donations of medical equipment and material, rehabilitating facilities, and training staff at Port-au-Prince’s main public hospital, as well as supporting a hospital in Port Salut in the South department and 10 health centers throughout the country.

Elsewhere, MSF's emergency stabilisation center in the Martissant area of Port-au-Prince received an average of 2,450 patients per month, 10 per cent of whom had gunshot wounds, lacerations, or other injuries from violence. MSF's burn treatment hospital in the Drouillard area of Port-au-Prince saw a peak in activity in September, when it admitted a total of 141 patients with severe burns, primarily caused by accidents.


Notes to editor

MSF 2010 earthquake response

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti. MSF, which had been present for 19 years prior to the earthquake, lost 12 employees that day. Two of the three MSF-supported medical facilities were seriously damaged.

In response to the urgent and almost unlimited needs of the population, MSF mounted one of its largest ever emergency operations, treating more than 350,000 people affected by the earthquake in just 10 months.


About MSF UK

This is the press room for MSF UK - the UK office of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.

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