Tragic, Mass-Casualty Accident in Haiti Highlights the Lifesaving Impact and Ongoing Need of Emergency Medicine Training

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It was a horrible tragedy: a large truck lost its brakes going downhill on a bustling Port-au-Prince street earlier this week, barrelling into cars, motorcycles and pedestrians, killing 29 people and injuring 70. “It was on Route de Delmas – the largest and busiest road in the Haitian capital. The truck rode over several motorcycles, hit many pedestrians, struck and crushed a public minibus,” reports Sean Casey, International Medical Corps Country Director in Haiti, who arrived at the scene moments after the crash.

International Medical Corps staff and the Haitian doctors, nurses and surgeons we have trained over the past two years were among the first to respond and treat the victims. Since 2011 International Medical Corps, supported by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, has been operating an emergency medicine development program at the Hopital de Universite d’Etat d’Haiti (HUEH). Through this program more than 300 physicians and nurses were trained in nearly every component of emergency care delivery.

The impact of this program became acutely evident this week, as many of those injured in the truck accident were brought to HUEH. The quick response of emergency staff trained by International Medical Corps, using equipment provided for the emergency care program, in particular ultrasound machines capable of identifying internal bleeding, undoubtedly saved lives.

“The doctors, nurses, and first-responders were able to provide improved care during the incident because of the extensive preparations resulting from the yearlong emergency capacity-building program,” stated Dr. Daniel Khodabakhsh, International Medical Corps’ Technical Advisor for the emergency medical care development program.

Only a month prior, Port-au-Prince’s firefighters and Haitian Red Cross’ medics had gathered together with HUEH physicians and nurses, as well as International Medical Corps experts, to practice a large-scale disaster simulation similar to Monday’s event. The practice stressed triage, stabilization, patient transport, and emergency trauma care, all of which were vital in responding to the truck accident.

The emergency response infrastructure in Port-au-Prince still faces challenges, as hospitals suffered from shortages of basic supplies such as blood for transfusions, which could have saved more lives following this tragic crash. Yet the International Medical Corps emergency medicine development program is providing lifesaving support to build the Haitian health systems towards self-reliance.

Lessons from the incident this week will be used by International Medical Corps trainers, exploring how pre-hospital care, triage, patient transport and communication in mass-trauma incidents can be improved, as well as coordination with the Haitian Fire Department and Haitian Red Cross, to ensure that Haitian first-responders are even better prepared for the next potential tragedy.