Haiti

Haiti: Working around the clock to reach those most affected, The health issues right now

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Merlin's specialist Emergency Response Team have been working without break behind the scenes to overcome the delays agencies are facing on the ground.

As our teams prepare to cross the border into Haiti, we have assessed the most urgent needs and are coordinating with those already on the ground to ensure our response is as quick and effective as possible.

Paula Sansom, Merlin's Emergency Response Coordinator, says:

"Every emergency presents its own unique complexities but more so in crisis countries like Haiti. But Merlin has 17 years experience of saving lives in the most challenging environments, like Myanmar, Darfur, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Our medical and logistics teams are experts: they know exactly what needs to be done and they'll waste no time in doing it."

Our seven-strong surgical team are experts at saving lives in these fragile and emergency environments, and they are backed up by Merlin's dedicated Emergency Response Team.

"It's taking longer than any of us want to access affected areas, but our staff are working around the clock to get there as quickly as possible," says Sansom.

When we hit the ground tomorrow, our first priority is to set up a surgical operation to make sure the injured have immediate access to the medical expertise they need.

Read an interview with Linda Doull, Merlin's Director of Health and Policy, describing the main health concerns currently facing those affected by the earthquake in Haiti.

What are the main disease concerns in Haiti right now?

With an earthquake of this magnitude common illnesses quickly become one of the most serious concerns. In the absence of clean running water or proper sanitation and a lack of shelter, diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections pose the most serious threats to earthquake survivors. What's more, as the homeless population is moved into camps for displaced people, diseases such as measles can quickly spread.

How long does the aid community have to prevent them?

We need to act as fast as possible to implement disease prevention and control measures. Merlin's Emergency Response Team will set up a network of mobile and static clinics which will be used to prevent, diagnose and swiftly treat common illnesses. We expect to be faced with people suffering from diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and malaria. We will also set up a disease surveillance and monitoring system to quickly identify sick people and prevent further spread of communicable disease. This is standard Merlin practice in any emergency scenario so we'll be able to get it up and running very quickly.

What about water and sanitation?

A key part of all Merlin's emergency responses is to ensure people have access to safe water and sanitation to minimize the risks of diarrhea and illnesses such as hepatitis. Merlin's Emergency Response Team has chlorine tablet supplies for mass distribution and will distribute personal hygiene kits.

What are the likely health effects of the destruction of the hospitals?

In the immediate aftermath we expect to see and treat a large number of wounds and injuries. The lack of surviving qualified health care staff is proving a huge challenge: health workers have either been injured or killed, or are suffering their own loss. Given the devastation to clinics and hospitals, Merlin's team is likely to set up a network of tented clinics and support surgical activities to manage the immediate acute needs. Merlin's primary objective will be to focus on the emergency response but we always work to help rebuild the health care system from the onset. Haiti's health system was in a fragile state before the disaster and Merlin will be working closely with the Ministry of Health to train and retrain local health workers and will look to stay on as long as we are needed.

Merlin's Emergency Appeal, launched yesterday, aims to raise $1.5m to cover the cost of our response.