- About Us
- Our Work
- Work With MSF
- Public Events
- Press Room
HAITI: The 2010 earthquake response
MSF in HAITI: The 2010 earthquake response, 2009
MSF Activity Reports on HAITI: The 2010 earthquake response:
All articles on HAITI: The 2010 earthquake response »
As the first reports came in about the destruction caused by the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, within hours its consequences became devastatingly clear, and MSF, who was already in the country, launched its largest emergency effort in the organization’s history.
MSF has been working in Haiti since 1991. Immediately prior to January 12, MSF was running three programs - a maternity project, a trauma and rehabilitation center, and an emergency stabilization programme - all necessitated by the cumulative impact of decades of violence and instability in a place with limited medical and governmental capacity. In the best of times, life in Haiti was precarious, but the earthquake brought unprecedented conditions. In a matter of moments, hundreds of thousands of people were killed or injured and millions were rendered homeless. The organizations that would usually coordinate a disaster response - the Haitian government and the UN - were badly hit themselves.
At the same time there were hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of help. As Dr. Jeanne Cabeza, a medical coordinator for MSF in Haiti wrote, “Five minutes after the quake, people were banging on our door.” A trickle of patients quickly became a deluge. “Within a few hours, there were hundreds of people in need of surgery,” Cabeza recounted.
She and her colleagues worked through the night, attending to crush wounds, fractures, concussions, and other injuries. Care was given in courtyards or in the streets in front of MSF structures which had all partially collapsed. Car headlights were used to illuminate procedures. Sheeting was hung from trees and an old shipping container that had served as a pharmacy was cleared out to create adhoc operating theaters. Veteran MSF staff likened it to doing surgery in a war zone when everyone is injured at the same time.
Simultaneously, MSF offices around the world mobilized, launching what Dr. Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for Haiti, later described as “the single most concentrated response by MSF.” Personnel, medication, medical supplies, and even an inflatable hospital were soon on its way. When congestion at the Port-au-Prince airport delayed arrival, MSF re-routed cargo through the Dominican Republic and lobbied coordinating bodies to give priority to aircraft carrying lifesaving emergency medical equipment which they did after some days.
Within a week, MSF sent more than 250 metric tonnes of medical and material equipment to Haiti. The next week another 260 tonnes arrived. In total, over the first seven weeks, nearly 1,200 tonnes of supplies were flown, driven, and carried by boat into Haiti. Putting it to use were waves of medical and logistics personnel. Before the earthquake, there were some 800 people working in MSF’s projects in Haiti, the vast majority of them Haitian. By the end of the February, that number was above 3,300. Collectively, four months after the earthquake struck, MSF was running approximately 20 medical facilities and several mobile clinics and 15 operating theaters. Teams had assisted some 137,000 patients, performed more than 7,600 surgeries, distributed roughly 28,000 tents and 40,000 hygiene and kitchen kits, and carried out nearly 70,000 mental health consultations.
The national healthcare system before the earthquake was very weak, and now it’s worse off. Estimates put the number of wounded between 200,000 and 300,000. MSF must therefore continue to respond to immediate needs while also planning for the future. “More than one million people are still living in deplorable conditions, beneath tents or plastic sheeting, without a clear sense of what’s ahead in the coming months,” Stefano Zannini, MSF’s head of mission in Haiti, said in May. “In the meantime, the rains are intensifying, flooding the sites several times a week where earthquake victims live.”
It is already clear that MSF will be making a very substantial commitment to Haiti for at least the next 18 months. Beyond that there are still likely to be more specific gaps in provision that require a longer term presence. This ongoing commitment is very large by MSF’s global standards. As a rough guide, MSF multiplied its activities by a factor of five after the earthquake. And in 2011 the work will still be around three times more than it was before the disaster.
MSF would like to pay tribute to the seven Haitian staff who were killed in the earthquake, and to those staff who were injured or lost relatives. Their bravery and commitment will not be forgotten.