Médecins Sans Frontières treats Haiti victims amid damaged medical facilities

14 January 2010

Hospitals and clinics run by Médecins Sans Frontières suffered significant damage in the Haiti earthquake on 12 January. Patients and staff were wounded, but MSF has managed to keep its services operating and have treated hundreds of injured people that arrived at its facilities.

The patients are now in tents in the grounds and the medical staff have been dealing with a flow of casualties from Port au Prince. They have already treated between 300 and 350 people, mainly for trauma injuries and  fractures. Amongst them are 50 people suffering from burns, some of them severe, frequently caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buildings.

MSF is concerned about the safety of some of its own staff. There are 800 of them and not all have yet been accounted for because of the poor communications and general disruption.

MSF aid worker Danielle Trépanier was rescued on Wednesday afternoon (13 January) after almost 24 hours under the rubble of a collapsed staff-house. At the time of the quake, Trépanier, a Canadian logistician-administrator, was resting in her bedroom on the second storey because she had been feeling under the weather.

Two other staff-members were also in the house — on the ground floor. They managed to escape at the onset of the first tremors, just as the house crumbled. Trépanier fell through two floors and landed in a small space in the basement, under a mass of debris.

Locally-hired MSF drivers were among those who risked their own safety to rescue Danielle from the basement, knowing from her intermittent cries for help that hope was not lost. When they pulled her out she was bewildered, in shock, with some relatively minor scrapes. She has been in contact with her family and is now recovering from the shock of her ordeal.

Haiti earthquake victims receiving treatment in the 
courtyard of the MSF compound
Haiti earthquake victims receiving treatment in the
courtyard of the MSF compound

So many of the city's medical facilities have also been damaged that the healthcare is severely disrupted at precisely the moment when medical needs are high.

MSF staff member Stefano Zannini said: "The situation is chaotic. I visited five medical centres, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets."

Another MSF coordinator, Hans van Dillen, confirmed that Port-au-Prince was quite unable to cope with the scale of the disaster. "There are hundreds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless. We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage."

Around 70 MSF staff are expected to arrive in the coming days. MSF is sending out a 100-bed hospital, with an inflatable surgical unit, consisting in two operating theatres and seven hospitalisation tents. Nephrologists to deal with the affects of crush injuries will also be part of the team. However, transport links are difficult and it is not yet clear whether supplies and medical staff will have to go in through neighbouring Dominican Republic.

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