Haiti: MSF Treats 2,000 Patients; Working to Expand Surgical Capacity

Surgery needs are huge; more than 300 patients in need of surgery have been tranferred from MSF's Martissant health center to Choscal hospital, a facility in the Cité Soleil district.

© Julie Remy

MSF staff treat patients under tents on the grounds of La Trinité trauma hospital, which was badly damaged during the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

More than 2,000 patients have been treated so far at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) locations in Port-au-Prince. Teams are now focusing their attention on expanding surgical capacity, as needs are huge. More than 300 patients have been transferred from MSF's Martissant health center to Choscal hospital, a facility in the Cité Soleil district, where they are expected to receive surgery soon. The rest of the medical staff on the ground are still responding to the hundreds of people at their clinics who need immediate first aid and more basic care for their wounds.

© Julie Remy

MSF staff assist a patient while others receive care on the grounds of La Trinité trauma hospital. 

“Triage, stabilization of the wounded, and referrals for surgical needs are the medical priorities,” said Dr. Mego Terzian, MSF emergency cell staff.

Each of MSF's existing three medical facilities in Haiti's capital have been partially damaged: the health center in the Martissant slum, the 60-bed La Trinité trauma hospital, and the 75-bed emergency obstetric hospital Maternité Solidarité. Medical care under tents continues in front of what was La Trinité trauma hospital and rehabilitation center in the Pacot area of Port-au-Prince. More than a thousand patients have received primary medical care there.

Equipment that could be salvaged from the damaged health facilities at Maternité Solidarité hospital has been taken to Choscal. It is a race against time because infected wounds need rapid interventions. Inflatable operating theatres, with more surgical specialists are en route. But there are major issues of access and transport, with the staff delayed in the air and on the roads.

Some of the biggest problems at the moment are with basic supplies and with transport access. Food is running very short, water is a major concern. MSF is starting to truck drinkable water to Choscal hospital for the patients and the people nearby.

Due to the high death toll caused by the earthquake, dead bodies are piling up in Port-au-Prince. “The dead bodies represent a medical issue in the sense that it’s a factor of stress for the survivors," said Dr. Terzian. "But in this context, as the cause of the death, it is not an infectious factor. There is no risk of epidemics linked to bodies.”

© REUTERS/Joel Trimble, courtesy alertnet.org

Earthquake survivors pass a damaged house in Port-au-Prince.

There are overwhelming needs across the city and the MSF teams are getting reports of very serious damage and casualties from the smaller towns near the capital. They will be trying to get out into those areas to establish what MSF might contribute. Mobile clinics are being planned. The teams are also looking at obstetric care, which has always been a priority for MSF and which needs sustaining. Mental health in the wake of this scale of disaster is another area where provisions need to be made.

MSF has managed to get two cargo planes directly into the Port-au-Prince airport but others have had to go to neighboring Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, in part because of the lack of aviation fuel in Haiti. People and supplies then have to come overland. There are 25 new MSF staff expected to join the existing teams in Port-au-Prince by the end of today.