Tuesday 6 December 2016

'We've given out all our painkillers and antibiotics'

Tom Leonard in Port-au-Prince

Published 17/01/2010 | 05:00

In many ways, the misery of Paul Wadeline sums up that of Haiti. Confused and in barely alleviated pain, the 25-year-old mother is too dazed even to cover her modesty as a doctor steps into her tiny hospital room and switches on the light, a single bulb that has been off all day to save power.

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The glare reveals injuries that make the sole saline drip connected to her arm look pitifully inadequate, but the hospital has run out of painkillers and antibiotics.

She has a broken left thigh, a broken arm, feet that look as if they have been flayed and a gash on her leg that looks like a shark has taken a bite out of it. Her husband and only child are dead, along with five other members of her family.

As the doctor translates her mumbling Creole into French, she says that she remembers nothing of the earthquake and the destruction of her family home.

"She turned up on her own, nobody has been to see her," said Dr Jean Jazon.

Who brought her here? A man, she says, she has no idea whom. "The house collapsed and somebody took me out," she says simply. All she knows is that she won't see her husband and five-year-old daughter alive again.

In the next room, the mother of 17-year-old Ange Cherie describes how her daughter was in bed on the second floor of their home when the earthquake hit, collapsing the house instantly. She has suffered a fractured elbow and minor head injuries as well as a damaged left eye -- a fortunate escape given that she dropped three floors with the weight of a concrete roof on top of her.

"Our home is gone. I sleep here now," says her mother, pointing to the tiny hospital room.

Their temporary home itself provides a graphic illustration of Port-au-Prince's woes in the aftermath of the violent earthquake. City Med, in the Del Mar neighbourhood of the city, ordinarily has just 12 beds but, with the destruction of a 100-bed unit run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, it is now the city's only maternity hospital.

But because it is one of only a handful of medical centres still functioning, yesterday it was inundated with earthquake victims.

Dr Jazon, the hospital's medical director, who says he has been working there solidly since Tuesday, listed what he needed most.

"We are running very low on plasters, bandages and especially gauze," he said. "The drugs are finished. We're given out all our painkillers and antibiotics. Medecins Sans Frontieres came today and gave us some drugs but it was not enough."

Without such necessities, most of the patients' wounds were now infected, he added.

A similar tale of desperate need and barely-relieved hardship is being played out across this city of more than two million people.

Just as every day spells less hope for the many thousands who are trapped, it also brings fresh fears for the survivors.

With the stench on the streets -- a toxic mixture of decomposing corpses, excrement and uncollected rubbish fermented in the Caribbean heat -- becoming almost unbearable, there were new fears yesterday that dysentery, cholera and malaria could break out.

Another growing concern is over what will happen when fuel runs out. Officials say three petrol stations in the city have petrol but cannot afford to open for business for fear of sparking a riot. Insiders admit privately that a similar worry hangs over the distribution of food and water, as well as supplies of medicine, tents and blankets.

American paratroopers have started handing out food and water at the airport, but with many of the supplies log-jammed, a few desperate Haitians have taken the law into their own hands. A gang broke into a UN-supply depot and looted food while a water delivery lorry driver reported being attacked in one of the city's shanty towns.

Although the impoverished country's small police force -- just 7,000 in total -- and army are bolstered by 9,000 UN peacekeepers, law enforcement is an infrequent sight.

Joseph Marc Antoine, who has been living rough under a sheet in the city's central park, said his own government was most to blame but called on the rest of the world to "keep its promises". Asked what was most difficult for him to deal with, he replied: "The smell. The smell of dead people and sewage -- it's not good."

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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