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Healthcare Community Rushes to Aid Haiti Earthquake Victims

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, January 15, 2010

Four thousand health workers with Boston-based Partners In Health were already working in Haiti with the Ministry of Health when the earthquake hit earlier this week.

They were working like they usually do, managing 10 hospitals and other facilities in the rural areas far to the north of Port-au-Prince, says communications director Andrew Marx.

But routine went out the window on Wednesday. The hospitals, doctors, nurses, and community health workers reinforced the health system in rural areas on two fronts. First, they are helping to manage and care for the "the influx of earthquake victims coming mainly from Port-au-Prince," Marx says, and second, "they're building up the supply chain to Port-au-Prince."

Planes are unable to land in many areas, so supplies are being ferried in from the Dominican Republic, he says.

"We've taken down several truckloads of supplies so we can set up field hospitals and medical stations where they can treat a lot of the injuries and disease that earthquake victims are suffering from," Marx says. "For those who need surgical care that's too difficult to do in the Port-au-Prince area, we transport them back up to a hospital [here]."

Marx says communication with doctors and nurses in the field has been tough. And e-mail is spotty and brief, but he believes the medical staff is facing patients with a lot of fractures. "But a lot of people are telling us the death toll is very high."

For now, he says, they have a shortage of anesthesiologists and surgeons, but advises that health providers who aren't specially trained in these types of disasters should stay home for now.

Food supplies are in short supply, as are places to sleep and water. There are logistical problems for people who want to come and help.

Marx says that before the earthquake, Partners In Health "used to say with confidence that we were the largest healthcare provider in rural Haiti. And with all the damage that took place in Port-au-Prince, we may now be the largest healthcare provider in the country."

Marx also says the teams are awaiting word on a few PIH workers who haven't checked in since the quake. They're not too worried about them yet, he says, because it's understood that those who found themselves in remote areas Wednesday were not able to communicate. Some who were initially feared dead have since reported in, which reassured the teams about the others, he says.

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