Gabriel Salazar, MD
Tropical Storms and Political Violence in Haiti
Doctor Gabriel Salazar, an experienced MD with nearly 11 years' experience with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), flew directly from Colombia to Haiti last September when the country was devastated by tropical storm Jeanne.
November 15, 2004
What project did you help set up in Haiti?
When I arrived in Haiti, there was already a team working in Gonaives, the town most severely affected by the floods caused by tropical storm Jeanne. Accompanied by a logistical coordinator, I assessed the regions north of Gonaives, where there was no information about the extent of the damage. We went to Port-au-Paix, along the Trois-Rivieres, a river that runs through the region.
In Port-au-Paix, we intervened in three different sections of the public hospital: the emergency room, and the pediatrics and maternity wards. This center served as a base for us to refer the most urgent cases identified during our time running mobile clinics in the area. We also supported a primary health care center in the village of Chansolme. Since we initiated this support, the number of consultation has tripled at the center. It should be noted that we provided assistance and medicines free of charge. This makes a huge difference for people since most Haitians cannot afford the 10 gourdes (approximately $0.25) that consultations usually cost.
What sorts of injuries and diseases most affected people?
In Gonaives, the teams treated a lot of injuries directly linked to the storm — cuts, infections linked to mud and water. But in Port-au-Paix, where we arrived later, our medical teams treated patients for mainly respiratory infections and diarrhea but also malaria. All of these diseases primarily affect children.
Now that the emergency seems to be over, will MSF stay?
It is true that the direct consequences of the tropical storm Jeanne are now over, but people remain in a very fragile situation and access to health care is extremely limited. This is true in many other places in the world, but this year has been even more difficult Haitians. Even as the island was supposed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence, it underwent several natural disasters and was torn by political violence. The flooding had a greater impact on Haiti's northeast region because of pre-existing poor conditions in that region. Moreover, assistance focused almost exclusively on Gonaives at first. The floods hit a large part of cultivated land and plantations. This means that we must monitor closely the food situation in the coming weeks and months. The idea is not to solve all of Haiti's problems. MSF is just a medical group and will not eradicate poverty. Our point is that by staying three more months, we will gain a better understanding of the context and can react faster should a new emergency occur.