Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–Jan. 29, 2010 — Countries around the world have shown extraordinary goodwill in responding to the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, said Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), after returning from a trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic this week.
But the task of rebuilding Haiti will require long-term support and will succeed only if the Haitian government and people lead the efforts, she said.
“Haitians must be allowed to restore their own authority over their country. This will be an enormous challenge, not least because many of Haiti’s most qualified people perished in the quake. It will require respect for Haiti and a continued, long-term commitment from the international community.”
Roses said that some 200 employees of Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health died in the quake along with
hundreds more from other government agencies. Moveover, because of the difficult living conditions following the quake, many Haitians with the means to go abroad have done so over the past two weeks.
Roses travelled to Haiti to review PAHO/WHO support for relief and recovery efforts. PAHO/WHO has been coordinating the activities of international agencies working on health issues in close cooperation with Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health.
PAHO had 52 international and local staff in its country office in Port-au-Prince when the quake struck and has since mobilized an additional 33 experts in logistics, environmental health, epidemiology, pharmacy, disabilities, and other areas. Both PAHO’s and the health ministry’s offices were partially destroyed in the quake, and staff from both agencies have been working out of PAHO’s PROMESS medical warehouse near the airport.
In addition, PAHO has partnered with the Ministry of Health of the Dominican Republic to provide additional support through PAHO’s permanent office in Santo Domingo and from a field office set up in Jimaní, near the border with Haiti.
Along with many other countries from the Americas and throughout the world, “the Dominican Republic deserves recognition for its important role in the relief effort,” Roses said. “The country made so much available to Haiti—vaccines, medicines, and supplies—the largest input has come from there.”
At least 8,000 injured Haitians have been treated in public hospitals in the Dominican Republic, Roses said, with many others treated in private facilities. In addition, the Dominican Civil Defense mobilized immediately after the earthquake to help with rescue efforts and, along with members of the Dominican business community, provided helicopters, planes, and ground transportation to help evacuate injured people and bring in needed supplies.
In addition, the national telecommunications authority, INDOTEL, was largely responsible for restoring phone service after the quake.
Roses said the response of Haitians themselves was also admirable.
“We talk about the international search-and-rescue teams and the record number of people they saved. But Haitians themselves rescued many more people from the rubble, using the most rudimentary tools, or often their bare hands.”
As leader of the Health Cluster, which coordinates organizations working on health issues in Haiti, PAHO/WHO is working closely with Haiti’s Ministry of Health to ensure that relief efforts support the Haitian government’s priorities and plans for providing basic health care for displaced people and restoring health services for the population in general.
In a press briefing in Washington today, PAHO Deputy Director Jon Andrus said donors of medicines, funds and supplies should also ensure that their efforts support the Haitian government and are coordinated with relief efforts already on the ground.
“One of the lessons we have learned over and over with each disaster is that not all donations are effective donations. In the case of Haiti, we have seen once again that, if donations are not based on identified needs or are not well coordinated, they can be ineffective and in some cases even do more harm than good.”
Andrus cited cases of airplanes arriving with unsolicited goods without advance provision for their storage or distribution. “Because of the earthquake’s disruptive effects on transportation, communication, and the activities of the government and a host of organizations already working in Haiti, it has been enormously challenging to receive and distribute unsolicited aid in any efficient way,” he said.
Andrus also warned that all volunteers that should make sure, before traveling to Haiti, that arrangements have been made for their accommodations, communication, and security, and that those arrangements do not divert resources intended for the care of Haitians themselves.
Volunteers from abroad should also make sure they are fully vaccinated, to avoid the importation of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles (indigenous cases of measles have not been reported in Haiti since 2001).
“We are concerned about the high concentration of people living in resettlement camps under very precarious conditions that are ripe for a scourge of infectious diseases,” Andrus said.
He said one of the most pressing health needs now will be the treatment and rehabilitation of an estimated 2,000 or more earthquake amputees.
“The well-being of these patients will depend in large part on their getting physical therapy as early as possible and on their remaining motivated to go forward. This means empowering them, motivating them. We have to do all we can to support them in rebuilding their lives.”
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).