BOSTON - Saturday, at a press conference in Boston, Partners In Health’s Executive Director Ophelia Dahl and Chief Program Officer Ted Constan issued a call to action - to governments, NGOs and individuals - to do a better job addressing the inhumane and rapidly deteriorating conditions on the ground in Haiti.
Dahl and Constan returned to the United States Tuesday evening after a week-long trip to Port-au-Prince and Cange, in Haiti’s Central Plateau. According to USAID, there are approximately 600,000 displaced people living in 416 makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince. PIH has established clinics in five of these settlements, providing primary care, reproductive health care, HIV testing and screening for malnutrition to a community of 80,000 to 100,000. PIH is also continuing to treat thousands of patients at its 12 health facilities – operated in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Health – in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite Valley.
Please see below for key quotes from the call:
Ophelia Dahl on the humanitarian crisis: “More than seven weeks after the earthquake, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis. The situation is very bad and getting worse. We witnessed hundreds of thousands of people living in makeshift temporary shelters; spontaneous settlements made of scraps of cardboard and plastic bags. What little people have is soaked, because they’re sleeping in the rain, and the makeshift shelters are already breaking down and dissolving. The conditions for the homeless and displaced people are absolutely inhumane and getting worse every single day.”
Ophelia Dahl on the response to the earthquake: “We all can do a great deal better, and we must do a better job of actually getting supplies, tents, shelter and sanitation to people who need it. We are issuing a call to action.”
Ophelia Dahl on Camp Dadadou, a spontaneous settlement in Port-au-Prince: “…Many children are suffering from chronic water-borne diseases from drinking water that’s been contaminated, often by human waste because there are no sanitation facilities. At Camp Dadadou, there are approximately 20 babies who have been born [since the earthquake] and more than 100 expectant mothers who are at risk of death due to complications in child birth. The complications infection that develop after delivery are very serious. If your birthing suite is a tent situated on a flooded astroturf floor in mud, it just gets worse and worse.”
Ophelia Dahl on help for Haiti from Boston: “Boston has been incredibly supportive. We were inundated with offers of support from local medical partners including Partners HealthCare and its consortium of hospitals, Dartmouth-Hitchcock, construction companies including Shawmut, medical supplies companies like IMEC, and Harvard Medical School. The generosity piece of all this is a very positive story. There is no one who hasn’t come through. What we hope is that the partnership won’t stop when the news stops. We’re already in conversations with Partners HealthCare and Harvard to make sure that they are engaged in continuing medical education and to help rebuild Haiti’s medical infrastructure.”
Ted Constan on call for partnership: “Our presence in the camps has allowed us to see first-hand the lack of critical services – especially sanitation and shelter. PIH is issuing a call for action, and for us that means a call for partnership. PIH is a health care organization, though we have experience with water projects and economic development and housing. But the scale of this involves a need for a much larger and much more specialized intervention than what PIH can provide… We are supportive of efforts to pass out tarpaulins, but this is not really a solution for the long term. What’s required is more than tents, what’s required is transitional housing or at least a strong enough shelter that can withstand mud, strong rains and strong wind.”
Ted Constan on supporting the Haitian government: “Just last night a child died for want of a small part – an oxygen regulator. It’s something easy to procure, but the Haitian Ministry of Health has limited funds and limited capacity to keep these (health) facilities well stocked. Of the aid money coming into Haiti, the Haitian government is seeing a very small amount – about $1 of every $100. The government of Haiti is standing up on its feet: staff are returning to the General Hospital, they are running vaccination camps, they are running registration drives for displaced people, they are maintaining and strengthening their presence at the airport. We need to make sure aid money is used to capacitate and hold accountable the government of Haiti – it’s the only real solution to these challenges over the long term.”
Ted Constan on the need for resources at the Ministry of Health: “The Minister of Health, himself, asked PIH for four laptops. He couldn’t get online. He couldn’t review and write documents…The Ministry of Health has no way of moving around, they have no vehicles. The notion that the Ministry of Health – which is our direct partner – can’t move around really makes us very sad.”
About PIH: PIH works in 12 countries around the world to provide quality health care to people and communities devastated by joint burdens of poverty and disease. PIH has been providing vital health care services in Haiti for more than 20 years and is the largest health care provider in the country, working with the Haitian Ministry of Health to deliver comprehensive health care services to a catchment area of 1.2 million across the Central Plateau and the Lower Artibonite Valley. PIH had 5,000 staff in Haiti before the January 12 earthquake. For more information visit www.pih.org
Contact: Andrew Marx, (617) 998-8977
Meredith Eves, (617) 998-8945