Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

by Mark Lovett on January 13, 2010

First reports are now emerging from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams who were already working on medical projects Haiti and have treated hundreds of people injured in the quake. “The situation is chaotic,” said one senior staff. “I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning.”

A massive earthquake, registering 7.0-magnitude, which struck on Tuesday has left Haiti in shambles.  Called the worst earthquake in the past two centuries, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive believes that more than 100,000 people were killed, while the Red Cross estimates that up to three million people are affected. Offices, schools, homes and hospitals have collapsed, while basic services such as water, electricity and telephone are severely damaged.

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the medical needs of thousands who are injured.

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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have been setting up clinics in tents to replace their own damaged medical facilities. Paul McPhun, MSF’s operations manager for Haiti, described the current situation for MSF teams on the ground during a press conference on January 13.

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Full Press Conference Transcript

“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières—we have three general areas where we have been traditionally providing emergency care with infrastructure established to set up and provide for emergency services. All of those three centers have been severely affected in the earthquake and none of them are in a condition that we can use. One has completely collapsed and two others are so structurally damaged we cannot use them.

As a result, in all three locations we’ve established temporary shelters and moved our operations outside of those referral hospital settings. The challenge, therefore, for our team, is that the level of care we can now provide without that infrastructure is very limited. So where we’re focusing our energy is on the rapid influx of patients from the neighborhoods who know of our services.

The best we can offer them at the moment is first-aid care and stabilization. The reality of what we’re seeing is severe traumas—head wounds, crushed limbs—severe problems that cannot be dealt with at the level of care we currently have available with no infrastructure really to support it. So our major priority and focus is to re-establish as soon as possible a secondary level of surgical capacity in the country.

That, I think, gives us a general snapshot of where we currently are. We have altogether around 800 medical staff working in Haiti. Thirty of those are international. We’re currently putting rapid response plans into place based out of North America and out of Europe to have another 70 international staff available over the next few days with specialties to be able to respond to these more immediate emergency medical needs. Likewise, we’re prepared now and have prepared freight, including an emergency inflatable hospital so we can set up exactly those services we’re currently missing.

Teams are basically managing what comes to them. There’s very little possibility to get out and do more than that at the moment. Already teams are getting overwhelmed. We’re strongly identified in Haiti with emergency medical care—even our coordination offices are becoming centers of influx for people in neighborhoods with severe trauma wounds. So even in our capital offices where we’re trying to maintain contact with our teams they’re struggling to manage quite high case loads of patients seeking medical care.

So it’s a very chaotic situation. Communications, as you know, are down in terms of mobile systems. Information for us is very difficult to gather. It’s very difficult to be aware of exactly what our teams are up to, where and how things generally progress. So there are many constraints to being able to provide accurate information to you at the moment. You’ve got to bear in mind that we only had an hour of daylight last night and the teams have been working all night and we’re still trying to catch up with what the teams have been able to find out since we had the advantage of daylight this morning.

Again, reports of our teams actually trying to get out this morning—people were sleeping on all the roads where would have liked to have been able to move last night, the roads that are not completely obstructed with rubble. Massive destruction, including much of MSF’s infrastructure, and everywhere we go a massive demand from people to help them with trapped family members, with people who are suffering from major, major injuries. So, you know, you’re on the streets, you’re getting mobbed, particularly because we are identified with that kind of medical care.

We have not accounted for all of our staff. We’re very concerned about the welfare and safety of our staff, both international and national. So we have not accounted for all of our staff and we’re making every effort to do so. We’re in direct contact with all of the family of those who have family members working with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti. And out of respect to them and with the gaps in information that we currently have I don’t really have any more detail I can share, but this is a major focus, a major priority for the organization.

Likewise, for our national team members, many of them were involved, were working in structures that fell apart during the earthquake. Many have families who live in very precarious conditions anyway in Port-au-Prince, so it’s a major concern for them as well, what has happened to their families, so they’re also trying to establish that in addition to supporting the emergency care of the organization. So it is, for us, one of the key pillars that we’re trying to work on right now and I don’t have all the information yet to brief you more thoroughly.”

Please consider supporting the work of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Philippine literature August 27, 2010 at 10:43 am

amazing. this will complete my report on Haiti earthquake

Reply

Angie Swartz January 15, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Mark, Are you thinking of holding a local event to help raise funds for Doctors w/o Borders supporting the folks in Haiti? Perhaps the local blogger community might be willing to work with you on a tweetup/twineup to raise a little money? It’s such a large disaster, it’s hard to know how to be the most helpful and effective. Let me know if you do and I’ll be sure to help spread the word. Thanks for everything you do!
Angie
@aaswartz
.-= Angie Swartz´s last blog ..11 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Linkedin =-.

Reply

Global Patriot January 16, 2010 at 8:20 am

My first approach has been to encourage donations via the Doctors Without Borders website. Now that @DowntownRob is promoting a tWineUp on January 30th at Arterra, that may be an opportunity to raise additional funds. While I realize that’s still two weeks away, the sad reality is that DWB will be treating injuries in Haiti for months to come, so their need for financial support extends far beyond today.

Reply

Angie Swartz January 16, 2010 at 5:20 am

Mark, Are you thinking of holding a local event to help raise funds for Doctors w/o Borders supporting the folks in Haiti? Perhaps the local blogger community might be willing to work with you on a tweetup/twineup to raise a little money? It’s such a large disaster, it’s hard to know how to be the most helpful and effective. Let me know if you do and I’ll be sure to help spread the word. Thanks for everything you do!
Angie
@aaswartz
.-= Angie Swartz´s last blog ..11 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Linkedin =-.

Reply

GlobalPatriot January 16, 2010 at 3:20 pm

My first approach has been to encourage donations via the Doctors Without Borders website. Now that @DowntownRob is promoting a tWineUp on January 30th at Arterra, that may be an opportunity to raise additional funds. While I realize that’s still two weeks away, the sad reality is that DWB will be treating injuries in Haiti for months to come, so their need for financial support extends far beyond today.

Reply

pays to live green January 15, 2010 at 6:44 am

This is just a horrible situation. My prayers go out to all those in Haiti and hopefully these doctors can help as much possible.
.-= pays to live green´s last blog ..Greenpeace’s Green Electronics Guide =-.

Reply

Global Patriot January 16, 2010 at 8:08 am

Luckily Doctors Without Borders is used to quick reaction and supplies have been moved from their logistics operation in Bordeaux, France to Haiti, but many local hospitals were destroyed and the magnitude of injury has been beyond the capacity of staff on site.

Reply

pays to live green January 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

This is just a horrible situation. My prayers go out to all those in Haiti and hopefully these doctors can help as much possible.
.-= pays to live green´s last blog ..Greenpeace’s Green Electronics Guide =-.

Reply

GlobalPatriot January 16, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Luckily Doctors Without Borders is used to quick reaction and supplies have been moved from their logistics operation in Bordeaux, France to Haiti, but many local hospitals were destroyed and the magnitude of injury has been beyond the capacity of staff on site.

Reply

Banu B Bingor January 14, 2010 at 12:37 am

Such hard times… I have two Haitian friends both whom don’t live in Haiti anymore though their families are on Haiti. I know how bad they feel. And also such a big earthquake (7.2) also occured in Turkey (Golcuk) in 1999. We do know how it is. And all what they need is help&support… (And some prayers :( )
.-= Banu B Bingor´s last blog ..…till we open http://www.befoodie.com =-.

Reply

Global Patriot January 16, 2010 at 8:06 am

Following the story has been heartbreaking, as logistics are keeping vital aid from reaching the victims. With a small, single runway airport, damaged roads and a port in shambles it has taken much longer than expected to get basic necessities on land.

Reply

Banu B Bingor January 14, 2010 at 7:37 am

Such hard times… I have two Haitian friends both whom don’t live in Haiti anymore though their families are on Haiti. I know how bad they feel. And also such a big earthquake (7.2) also occured in Turkey (Golcuk) in 1999. We do know how it is. And all what they need is help&support… (And some prayers :( )
.-= Banu B Bingor´s last blog ..…till we open http://www.befoodie.com =-.

Reply

GlobalPatriot January 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Following the story has been heartbreaking, as logistics are keeping vital aid from reaching the victims. With a small, single runway airport, damaged roads and a port in shambles it has taken much longer than expected to get basic necessities on land.

Reply

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