UN threatens to cut off Haitian hospitals for charging patients
The United Nations has warned that it will cut off shipments of free medicine beginning immediately to any Haitian hospitals that it finds are charging patients.
When the catastrophic earthquake struck on January 12, authorities immediately decided to make all medical care free.
More than 200 international medical relief groups have sent in teams to help, and millions of dollars of donated medicine has been flown in.
But last night UN officials revealed that about a dozen hospitals -- public and private -- were charging patients for medicine.
The medical sources refused to identify the hospitals but said they were in several parts of the country, including in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.
"The money is huge," said Christophe Rerat of the Pan American Health Organisation, the UN health agency in the region.
He said about $1m (€725,000) worth of drugs had been sent from UN warehouses alone to Haitian hospitals in the past three weeks.
The revelations came on the same day as actress and United Nations goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie arrived in Port-au-Prince to visit victims of the quake. The star used the opportunity to announce a $1m donation to the relief efforts.
Last night, UN officials were adamant that hospitals didn't need to charge patients to pay their staff, because Haitian health ministry employees were getting paid with donated money.
Haiti now has about 90 hospitals, including public and private hospitals and field hospitals set up in the quake's aftermath.
A member of the Haitian government commission created to deal with the medical crisis, Dr Jean Hugues Henry, said he had no knowledge of any hospitals charging for services or medicine.
UN officials said any hospital found levying fees for medicine would be cut off. But the UN would consider continuing to supply non-governmental groups working at private hospitals with drugs if those groups could make a convincing case that none of their patients were being charged.
UN workers and quake survivors were also keeping one eye on the sky. There's been no significant rain since the disaster, but everyone knows that won't last.
The rainy season in Haiti is deadly even in a good year. Now, in a devastated capital city, the early spring rains threaten to cause landslides and bring about health problems in the makeshift camps where more than 500,000 people are living.
"Who has tents? Who has tents?" President Rene Preval asked South American leaders yesterday in Ecuador, at a regional gathering on Haiti aid.
"It has rained twice this week in Haiti, and we need tents urgently," he said.
Rain is already falling in some parts of the country, but Haiti's shattered capital, where most of the quake damage occurred, has been spared so far -- a rarity for this time of year, when afternoon showers are common. Steady rains could come as soon as the end of the month, and hurricane season begins in June.
Workers are racing to move victims off flood plains and into tents. They are also trying to clear tonnes of debris from ravines, canals and riverbeds, so rain does not turn the survivors' encampments into breeding grounds for disease.
Jeanne Marceus (40) is camped out with hundreds of others under plastic tarps just feet from the Bois de Chene River. On one side, dozens of houses lie flattened from the quake. On the other, a dozen dwellings that slid off the mountain during 2008 rains are piled in a mound.
"Every day we look at the sky for clouds," she said. "My house is gone, and now I'm wondering whether I will be swallowed by the river."