Securing health in Haiti when the earthquake ruined hospitals

UNICEF works to ensure health care continuity.

Nazaire Roseline, 42, has brought her two years and a half old son to OFATMA Hospital in Les Cayes to seek for care. When the earthquake hit, she managed to save her son but only after a wall fell on him.

“When I heard the earthquake, I was running to get out of the house. I was going to pick my son up when the house collapsed, and part of the wall fell on him. I was in a hurry to get out, but I had time to grab him, pull him out of the rubble. One of his legs is broken and he is injured on the other. He is injured in the arm too. He is 2 years and 6 months old. I still don't feel well, I still have headaches and I live with some anxiety.”

On 14 August 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the southwestern departments of South, Grand’ Anse, and Nippes. Over 2,200 people died, 12,700 people were injured, and 137,000 homes destroyed, putting thousands of people in urgent need of assistance.

Nazaire’s son was among the 527 patients who sought care at Ofatma Hospital in Les Cayes, in the South Department, over the two days following the disaster.

“We’ve had many children. One case moved me a lot. It is a child who had to be amputated traumatically and could not be saved. Many children arrive with an abdominal trauma that we have operated here and that we continue to follow. There have been many women too. But we don't really have exact figures on the number of women and children,” said Dr. Jean Saintilus Messeroux, head of the hospital.

Within hours of the earthquake, 34 emergency medical kits containing essentials medical supplies– including gloves, painkillers, antibiotics and syringes – to treat 50,000 people earthquake victims over three months have been delivered to the 19 main hospitals in the south.

“For me, UNICEF is the NGO that was there first. Its help was welcome because we had a shortage of gloves, kits, etc. We hope that UNICEF will continue to help us protect our patients,” Dr Messeroux said.

The earthquake has damaged or destroyed some 82 health facilities, putting the health system in challenge to keep pace with the widening of health needs resulting from maintaining access to life-saving assistance while continuing to offer essential maternal and child health services. Some rural communities in affected areas could not access functional health facilities due to infrastructure damage.

Three weeks after the earthquake, when roads were cleared of big blocks that rolled downhill with landslides and some bridges gradually repaired and pliable again, UNICEF equipped 24 mobile clinic teams with essential medical supplies and medicines to deploy in 18 remote communes in the three hardest-hit departments to provide proximity basic healthcare.

“Since the earthquake, we haven't had a clinic in Roche-à -Bateau. And I really appreciate this clinic because it has brought good things for us. It takes care of the children,” said Venithe Louis, mother of 5, from Nathan in Roche-à-Bateaux, a remote commune in South Department.

To ensure continuum of healthcare, national volunteer orthopedists, surgeons, and anesthetists were deployed, and tents were installed in 28 health facilities severely damaged as temporary health facilities to house essential medicines, medical equipment, and office supplies. With its emergency rooms damaged by the disaster, a 72 sq meter was installed in the yard of Ofatma hospital 24 hours after the earthquake to provide life-saving care to patients.

“I have no words to thank all the staff of UNICEF, but I still hope that UNICEF will continue to help us in the medium term beyond the help in emergency situations. Action must be taken in the short term, but also in the medium and long term. We actually hope that UNICEF will help us to arrange the building or make prefabricated buildings, so that we can be able to give care to our patients,” Dr Messeroux said.