Saturday, August 14, at 8:30 am local time, the earth trembled in the southern peninsula of Haiti. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused severe damage to buildings, houses and main access roads in the three provinces of Grand'Anse, Nippes and Sud. The provisional death toll is estimated at more than 1,400 with more than 5,700 people injured, according to Haitian authorities. It is difficult at the moment to get a complete mapping of the disaster, but MSF has launched exploratory missions in several localities, started interventions in the cities of Port-Salut, Les Cayes and Jérémie and is preparing to step up its activities in the coming days, sending medical equipment, essential items and human resources, including medical teams to care for the injured.
In the first hours after the earthquake, a medical team from our reproductive health project in Port-à-Piment was able to quickly go to the General Hospital of Les Cayes to assess the situation and begin an intervention. Another team was deployed to the Port-Salut Hospital, where 26 wounded have been referred, primarily from Port-à-Piment, Les Anglais and Les Cayes.
In the province of Grand'Anse, a surgical team and sterilization equipment were sent to St. Antoine's Hospital in the city of Jérémie. Meanwhile, in the province of Nippes, material support was given to the Sainte-Thérèse hospital in Miragoâne.
"Our current priorities are, above all else, to get a precise idea of the medical situation and to provide direct care to the injured when we can or to refer them to functional medical structures once we ensure they are stabilised," says Alessandra Giudiceandrea, head of mission for MSF in Haiti.
Several evaluations are currently underway in Baradères, Petit Trou, Les Anglais, Corail and Pestel. Depending on the reality we find on the ground, MSF may deploy other medical teams, start distributing essential items or begin water and sanitation activities.
Whenever they can, MSF’s medical teams help refer the injured to functional health facilities.
The transport of medical teams and equipment is one of the main challenges today. Several roads were cut off, notably those between Les Cayes and Jérémie and between Port-à-Piment and Les Anglais. Landslides, which have damaged access roads, slow down and complicate the deployment of relief supplies and the delivery of aid. MSF will hire a helicopter to gain faster access to remote areas, transport equipment and refer injured people. Travel by sea is also a possibility.
Another cause for concern is that a tropical storm, named Grace, is expected to pass by the earthquake zone on the night of Monday August 16 to Tuesday August 17.
"Several health facilities have had to evacuate their patients from their buildings due to structural damage or for fear of aftershocks, such as at St. Antoine Hospital in the city of Jérémie, where we are working. Many patients are outside or in tents, and now heavy rains are expected tonight. Not to mention all the Haitians who have lost their homes," says Michel-Olivier Lacharité, head of emergencies at MSF.
Finally, the security situation in Haiti is a factor that cannot be ignored. The main road to southwestern Haiti passes through Martissant, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince particularly affected by violence between armed groups. Although armed gangs have declared a ceasefire there, the general insecurity in Haiti is complicating the deployment of relief supplies. Even before the earthquake, health facilities in the provinces of Haiti's southern peninsula were experiencing numerous malfunctions and supply problems.
In Port-au-Prince, the earthquake fortunately did not damage any infrastructure or buildings. Our teams, who have been working for several years at the Tabarre Hospital, received 12 injured patients from the earthquake zone. In the Turgeau neighborhood, MSF has accelerated the opening of its activities at the Integrated Diagnosis and Treatment Centre (CDTI), commonly known as the Sacré-Cœur Hospital, in order to be able to stabilise injured patients and refer them elsewhere. In one day, 25 injured patients were received. A blood collection campaign has also been launched to address potential shortages.
Strengthening our intervention
In the coming days, other medical teams, including surgical ones, should be able to train and provide reinforcements in several locations in the three most-affected provinces.
Medical supplies, water and sanitation supplies and basic essentials, such as tents, will also be flown to Haiti. Considering the level of the physical destruction, this component is necessary for MSF’s response.