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Doctors struggle against Haiti devastation

Tuesday January 19th, 2010

The medical relief charity Medecins Sans Frontieres was finally able to begin construction of an inflatable field hospital in earthquake-shattered Haiti yesterday.

MSF said some of the supplies had to be transported by road from the Dominican Republic after its first plane was turned away from the Port-au-Prince airfield.

MSF now has some 130 global volunteers in the country and is operating in the Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil.

Surgeons had performed some 90 life-saving operations with just two theatres available - operating on open wounds, fractures, burns and pregnant women and also performing amputations.

MSF says it plans six more flights this week.

Once up and running, the inflatable hospital will offer two operating theatres and an intensive care unit together with 100 beds.

Marie-Christine Ferir, an MSF Emergency Coordinator, said: "The hospitals that remain standing are full. Although there is a slight increase in surgical capacity in Port-au-Prince with MSF expanding its capacity and other organizations arriving, it is still far from enough to absorb the number of patients in desperate need of surgery.

"We are having to focus on people with very serious injuries, where surgical interventions can save lives."

The US department of health and human services said it now had 265 medical staff in Haiti.

Meanwhile World Health Organisation director general Dr Margaret Chan warned that many of the problems following the catastrophic earthquake were already present on the island.

She said WHO was operational despite damage to its premises.

Speaking to the WHO executive board, she reported: "Already, this disaster ranks among the most devastating and logistically challenging in recent history.

"We are seeing the difficulties that arise when disaster strikes an already disastrous public health situation.

"Many of the problems we try to prevent after a disaster were already present in Haiti. These include diseases associated with poor water and sanitation systems, low immunisation coverage and widespread malnutrition, outbreaks of infectious diseases, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and erratic delivery of medicines and care."

Dr Chan also paid tribute to the assassinated Somali minister of health, Dr Qamar Aden Ali, who died in a suicide bombing at a graduation ceremony at a WHO-backed medical school last month.

The bombing also killed a number of young medical graduates.

Tags: A&E | Africa | Europe | North America | World Health

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