We devote this issue of Alert almost entirely to the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12. Immediately after the onset of the crisis, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams began setting up makeshift clinics on the grounds of the three hospitals in which they had been working when the earthquake hit. As the first wave of what would become thousands of people began to arrive with crushed limbs, open fractures, head traumas, and burns, MSF teams were ready to offer emergency medical care.
It soon became clear that the medical and surgical needs were enormous, and we expanded our capacity dramatically. Within a week, we had seen more than 3,000 patients and had performed more than 900 surgeries. By the beginning of March, our medical teams had treated more than 41,000 patients and conducted almost 3,300 surgeries. More than 3,000 MSF aid workers were working at 26 sites and in 4 mobile clinics.
MSF has been working in Haiti for 19 years. Due to the fact that we already had 800 field staff on the ground when the earthquake hit, we were able to respond quickly and effectively. And owing to the generosity of so many of our supporters here in the United States, we were able to fund our response—one of the largest in the history of the organization, and one that we expect to last for a long time to come.
The medical needs in Haiti have now shifted toward post-operative care, mental health support, shelter, treatment of chronic conditions, and the provision of clean water and effective sanitation. MSF is working closely with Handicap International, which estimates that 300,000 people have sustained injuries in Haiti, and that 25 percent of those suffered fractures that will require ongoing attention, including physiotherapy and possibly additional surgeries. Haiti’s health infrastructure was in poor shape even before the earthquake. As the international community discusses its role in rebuilding in Haiti, we will continue to urge that building an adequate medical infrastructure—something for which we have long advocated—should be a priority.
MSF teams have been witness to the suffering of patients and colleagues who have lost family and friends. MSF, too, suffered devastating losses. The Haitian members of our staff, and those who worked with us in the past, who were killed in the earthquake were courageous and committed professionals, and we mourn them as beloved friends.
Thank you for your support for MSF’s programs in Haiti and in more than 60 countries around the world. Your generosity is a powerful reminder of the trust that so many people have in MSF’s commitment and ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to those most in need. We are truly grateful for that trust.
Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)