Portable hospital and medical staff blocked from landing at Port au
19 January 2010
A Médecins Sans Frontières cargo plane carrying an inflatable
surgical hospital and medical staff was blocked from landing in
Port-au-Prince on Saturday and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican
MSF has urged that medical supplies and personnel be given priority
in allowing to land at Port au Prince airport.
All material from the diverted cargo plane is now being sent by truck
from Samana, but this has added delay for the arrival of the hospital.
A second MSF plane landed this morning with additional life-saving
medical material and the rest of the equipment for the inflatable
The inflatable hospital includes two operating theatres, an intensive
care unit, 100-bed hospitalisation capacity, an emergency room and all
the necessary equipment needed for sterilising material.
Bottlenecks at the airport continue to cause delays in delivering
supplies, with a number of cargo flights diverted. Today there are
reports that supplies of fuel are becoming critically low, hampering
transport, electricity generation and communications. An estimated
70,000 bodies have already been buried and there is an urgent need to
get to many areas still without outside help.
MSF teams are currently working around the clock in five different
hospitals in Port-au-Prince, and gradually building up capacity by
improvising as much as possible due to the massive influx of wounded and
lack of functional referral structures.
One of the first makeshift sites set up by Médecins
after the earthquake to provide surgery. Photo credit: Julie Rémy/MSF
The surgical units, which MSF set up in Port-au-Prince, continue to
work around the clock to treat the vast numbers of patients with
injuries from the earthquake. Prioritising the most serious cases, the
teams have been performing ceasarian sections and amputations.
Experienced MSF medical staff say they have never seen so many serious
In Choscal hospital, where MSF relocated after its original
facilities were so badly damaged, the operating theatre has been working
non-stop since early on Friday.
In Carrefour, a district in the south west of the city that was very
badly affected, MSF has started working in a hospital with two
One of MSF's operational co-ordinators in Port-au-Prince, Hans van
Dillen, says there was an immediate reaction. "When people
found out that we were starting medical activities in Carrefour, they
began crowding round the entrance. Patients are being brought in
wheelbarrows and carried on people's backs."
MSF hopes to be able to keep the hospital running on a 24/7 basis.
500 patients were treated in Carrefour in the first 24 hours, with 90
critical surgeries, including amputations, burns and fractures. Two
caesarean sections and six complicated deliveries have also been
There are other hospitals in the area but they are already
overflowing with injured people and have limited numbers of Haitian
staff or supplies.
British surgeon, Paul McMaster, treats patients in
a makeshift MSF surgery outside Carrefour hospital, Haiti. Photo credit:
In Trinite, where the team is treating people under canvas in the
grounds of the medical facility that was hit by the earthquake, surgery
was performed in an improvised theatre.
Two operating theatres are now running (one in a shipping container).
Since last Wednesday, teams have provided first aid care and done an
average of 25 operations a day.
The addition of the second operating theatre should help the surgical
team to work more efficiently and handle priorities and do an additional
20 surgeries per day. Today a triage area and a “ward” for
post-operative patients were set up in front of the building in the
MSF has managed to get more than 70 extra international staff into
Port au Prince but mostly through neighbouring Dominican Republic. They
are beginning to take some of the strain off the 30 who were already
there when the quake struck.
In the Pacot rehabilitation centre, where a new surgical team arrived
to relieve the permanent team, 160 patients are hospitalised and
transfers have started to Trinite hospital.
Other teams have treated more than 1,000 patients in Martissant since
the quake and more than 350 in the office. Some 150 patients have been
hospitalised in Martissant. More than 500 patients in need of surgery
have been transferred from Martissant to Choscal Hospital in Cite
Teams are focusing on life-saving surgery (open wounds, fractures,
burns, amputations, emergency obstetrics). They’ve been working 24 hours
a day and have done more than 90 operations since the operating theatres
started functioning. Priority is given to life-saving interventions,
such as amputations in patients with gangrene triggered by infected
MSF says its activities are rapidly scaling up and the next moves
will be to assess different parts of the city, where needs are expected
to be equally high. To help address the massive scale and variety of the
assistance required, MSF hopes to start other medical activities as soon
as possible, including mobile clinics where there is no functional
health structure and mental healthcare for people who have been
MSF is also assessing other areas in Haiti. It has visited Leogane,
one of the hardest hit areas, that was 80% destroyed. Support is being
given to a nursing school clinic with emergency care and a search is on
for more locations to support ongoing medical activities.
Teams have also been assessing the needs in Jacmel and Saint-Marc,
areas affected outside Port-au-Prince.