February 13, 2004

Port-au-Prince / New York, February 13, 2004 - Today, the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is sending 16 tons of medical equipment to Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The supplies consist primarily of surgical and dressing kits for the MSF programs in the hospital of Saint Nicolas, in Saint-Marc, and Saint François de Salle Hospital, in Port-au-Prince. The MSF medical emergency program aims to ensure access to treatment for the people wounded during the massive demonstrations and other violent incidents that have been occurring almost daily since December 2003.

MSF is particularly concerned about the lack of access to treatment for some of the wounded people due to financial and political constraints. Many of the wounded are poor, and receive at most first aid before being sent away. The majority of them are turned away at the entrance of the hospital because they can't pay for treatment. Another constraint is the political labeling of most health structures in the country, which leads to the perception that they are on the side of either the government or the opposition. The neutrality and security of medical structures is therefore not guaranteed. MSF continues to assess how the political labeling of the health structures influences the access to treatment for the wounded of the different factions, and will adapt its activities to its findings.

"We aim to ensure free access to treatment for all wounded, regardless of their political background or financial means," explains Philippe Hamel, MSF Head of Mission in Haiti. "We do this by providing medical drugs and equipment on an impartial basis in different hospitals and by sending extra medical staff when needed."

The MSF supplies that are being flown to Haiti will mainly be used for surgical programs in Saint-Marc and Port-au-Prince. The freight consists of medical-surgical kits to treat 300 wounded, 5 first aid kits, an anesthetics kit for 100 patients, a dressing kit to treat 120 burn patients, general dressing kits for a total of 150 patients and an emergency health kit for 10,000 people. The cargo is leaving from Brussels and is due to arrive in Port-au-Prince over the weekend.

"Our teams are concentrating on providing surgical assistance," Hamel said. "The team currently working in Saint Nicolas hospital in Saint-Marc has reported fourteen wounded so far. We were able to donate medical and surgical equipment and drugs over the past days, and most of the new supplies that are on their way now will also go that way. We are currently rotating the medical staff, to ensure 24-hour access to treatment for the wounded."

The MSF team working in Petite Rivière has been evacuated to the capital and remains unable to return due to security reasons, as the north of the country is getting more and more isolated. MSF will expand its program, however, by providing assistance to the Saint François de Salle hospital in Port-au-Prince. Over the weekend, two extra medical staff - a surgeon and a nurse - will also arrive in Haiti to reinforce the existing team on the ground. Currently, MSF has twelve international and 84 national staff working for its programs in the country.

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