MSF’s teams continue to be deployed to manage the injured and people with cholera or other medical issues in the South and North-West of Haiti. Laura Bianchi, back from assignment in Haiti, describes the crisis, which is very far from over.
Remote villages in the regions most affected by the hurricane (in the départements of Nippes, Grande Anse and Sud) that struck Haiti on 4 October continue to face serious shortages. This situation can only result in a deterioration in the health of the populations affected.
My overwhelming feeling is one of sadness. The sadness of seeing desperate people, one month after the hurricane, because they still have no idea how they will be able to feed their families or rebuild their homes, explains Laura Bianchi.
A month after the hurricane, the MSF teams are still extremely concerned. A new deterioration in the health of the populations can only have the result of overloading the local health infrastructures which were already unable to cope with all the needs of the populations even before the hurricane.
The urgent needs of the populations in the affected zones are: the lack of food, as crops and stocks were destroyed and livestock decimated, which deprives these communities of their means of subsistence; then, given the massive scale of destruction of housing, one has to find a way of reaching places whose access is made difficult by damage to the roads, with protective shelters and building materials; basic medical treatment must also be deployed in order to manage the large number of injured people and those who are sick, as well as the restoration of the distribution of drinking water. If these urgent requirements are not met, this means that there will be an even greater need for access to medical treatment by qualified staff.
In the course of our consultations, we are already seeing an increase in respiratory infections, but we are also anticipating an increase in skin diseases and illnesses associated with poor water quality, as well as a deterioration in the nutritional state of children, continues Laura.
“A few days ago, I treated an elderly woman with serious burns on her hand. As she refused to receive an injection for the pain, I tried to distract her by talking about her family. She had lost both her children and she was now faced with the responsibility of looking after her two grandchildren alone. Her only concern while I was treating her was that when she left the clinic, she had to face the reality of returning to her house with nothing with which to feed her grandchildren”, confirms Dr Danielle Perreault.
The other major concern lies in the risks of a cholera epidemic. The hurricane seriously damaged the water supply systems, sanitary installations, and access to cholera treatment centres. In order to reduce these risks, a global approach is required, that includes access to drinking water, improved sanitation, reinforced monitoring of cholera cases, access to proper treatment for those infected and the establishment of a rapid intervention capability. “MSF has distributed over a million chlorine tablets in the Sud, Grand Anse and Nippes regions, as this immediately provides safe drinking water. But this can only be a temporary solution. Re-establishing water supply networks has to be a priority to help reduce infections associated with poor water quality. Because without permanent access to safe drinking water, the population will necessarily be using potentially contaminated water”, explains Laura.
In the course of an emergency intervention, the medical needs of a population can change very quickly, and the medical response needs to adapt accordingly. When, ten days after the hurricane, Laura Bianchi arrived in the town of Jérémie, one of regions most badly affected, there were fractures, open or infected wounds, and paediatric emergencies that needed treating: “When deep wounds and open fractures are not treated in time, they can become infected very quickly. If nothing is done, the infection can worsen with a risk of septicaemia (a general infection of the blood), which can be life-threatening. Hence the importance of reaching the zones that are difficult to reach, by increasing the number of mobile clinics to manage patients living in remote zones”, explains Laura.
Access to populations in the remote villages remains an immense challenge. Although the coastal roads are currently being repaired, most of the population lives in the valleys and on the mountains and is still cut off from all aid and living in very difficult conditions, very far from any basic minimum standards. “We have used all possible means to reach the remote villages: helicopters, cars, and mopeds, and we have even hired donkeys to take equipment to these villages. Our priority is to be able to treat the vulnerable. But clearly there remain zones that we have not yet reached”, continues Laura.
“I can scarcely imagine the distress of people living in the villages that we have not yet been able to reach. I am thinking particular of the elderly, the vulnerable and the weak, but also of children who are at risk of malnourishment, and of all those who have still had no treatment at all for many weeks. Those affected by hurricane Matthew are suffering and need help. The crisis is far from over”, concludes Laura Bianchi following her assignment.
Call for donations
Let us not forget those who have lost everything because of hurricane Matthew. MSF is launching an appeal for donations, to avoid this natural disaster turning into a health crisis.
90 euros will provide safe drinking water for over 1,880 people for 7 days and will prevent the risk of a cholera epidemic!
Support the work of our teams on the ground: make a donation here or by bank transfer, using the communication "Urgence Haïti" to the account CCP LU75 1111 0000 4848 0000.
As well as its emergency intervention work, MSF is managing a large number of projects in the metropolitan zone of Port-au-Prince: the major burns unit at the Drouillard hospital, the emergency centre at Martissant 25, the emergency surgery hospital at Nap Kenbe, the centre de référence des Urgences en Obstétrique (CRUO) [Obstetrics emergency referrals centre], the sexual violence survivors’ clinic at Pran Men’m, and the Figaro cholera treatment centre which can be operational within a few hours. MSF also supports the Diquini centre for patients with cholera.