Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Feb 8, 2010
Nearly a month after an earthquake devastated Haiti, medical teams still treat trauma patients but also face a new wave of ailments linked to poor hygiene and squalid, cramped living conditions.
After three sleepless nights with debilitating pain in her lower back, 53-year-old Anne Setoute waited for her turn at the Canape Vert hospital in the capital Port-au-Prince.
Her house came crashing down during the January 12 earthquake and a piece of rubble fell on her. She is still living in the street.
Jean-Baptiste Andre, 55, was stopping in for care for the first time.
Although he was not injured in the quake, he said his feet now felt like they were burning up and his stomach was cramping.
Doctors say back or stomach pains linked to post-traumatic stress have become commonplace among the quake survivors due to the high anxiety triggered by the disaster itself and the many aftershocks and chaos that followed.
"The first team of psychologists mostly took care of the first responders," acknowledged Damien Deluz, a government health care psychologist.
In a catastrophe like this, he told AFP, "there is a phase that is shock; and then once life starts getting back to normal, the distress can take over again and there is a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder."
Danielle Laporte-Chastes, 23, a nurse helping to run a field hospital in an industrial area of Port-au-Prince, said a variety of ailments were now cropping up due to the desperate post-quake living conditions.
"The most serious problem we have now are people coming in with all kinds of infections, especially those related to lack of hygiene," said the nurse, who was working in the neighboring Dominican Republic before the quake.
So far, however, authorities are not talking about a real epidemic.
"There is a first phase dominated by trauma medicine, major injuries, bone breaks, broken backs... and then after a week, we are back to more everyday medicine," said Christian Riello, in charge of a Diquini hospital unit in Carrefour on the capital's western fringe.
In addition to delivering babies, doctors are now caring for "a lot of babies who are living in poor hygienic conditions," he said, noting there was still too little care for too many patients.
Families left homeless by the disaster pass along the news, and the whole neighborhood knows where to find international medical teams.
Some of the patients treated in the quake's immediate aftermath return to get a fresh wound dressing or an update on their situation. Others live in hospital gardens in tents that serve as post-operative care centers.
Several patients with major injuries have been slow to reach a care center or to travel to the capital. But such cases are getting rarer by the day.
In the capital's Diquini neighborhood, patients with arms and legs in rustic prosthetics are crowded into the back of a truck.
"An hour ago, I heard that a skin graft specialist was going to be at Canape Vert tonight and tomorrow, so I am sending him everybody I can find. It's their chance of a lifetime," said Riello.
earlier related report
The meeting comes nearly a month after the 7.0-magnitude temblor on January 12 that devastated much of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince and killed more than 200,000 people. An estimated 460,000 people remained in makeshift camps throughout the city.
The summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), to be held in Ecuador's capital Quito, will include Haitian President Rene Preval and the leaders of several countries which quickly participated in the international aid effort.
Some of them though -- most notably leftwing Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Boliva -- have been critical of the leading role taken by the US military, which they charge has mounted an "occupation" of Haiti.
The summit's host, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, is also in Chavez's anti-US camp.
Facing them will be Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Washington's closest ally in South America.
Uribe's relations with Chavez and Correa have been fraught ever since their countries almost entered into a conflict in 2008 over a Colombian military raid into Ecuador to destroy a FARC rebel camp.
Uribe's decision last year to give the US military access to seven bases in Colombia also has poisoned ties with Caracas and the capitals of many other South American nations.
A mild pro-US ally in the meeting will be Peruvian President Alan Garcia, though he tends to shy away from confrontation with his leftwing counterparts.
Correa, the current Unasur chair, said he hoped the summit would come up with a plan for longterm development aid to Haiti.
"This means above all accompanying and strengthening Haitian institutions, because without government and institutions, the country cannot move ahead -- unless it is a colony, which we will not permit," he said.
He dismissed a G7 meeting last weekend that took steps to cancel Haiti's debt, saying that was "the imperialism" of rich-nation donors which were looking only to profit from rebuilding Haiti.
"The rich countries, which participated in the tragedy because they created Haiti's horrible foreign debt, are now sending a lot of aid, but later they'll just leave," Correa said.
Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela last month already agreed to an aid plan that relied on subsidized Venezuelan oil and the deployment of Cuban doctors, while blasting what they called the "excessive foreign military presence" in Haiti.
The US military, which has some 17,000 personnel in Haiti or on ships off its coast, vowed last week to stay in the Caribbean country as long as required.
Colonel Gregory Kane, the US Joint Task Force Haiti operations officer, said Friday the force was "welcomed by the government of Haiti."
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