Heavy rains pelting Haiti in early June triggered flash floods and mudslides, leading to the deaths of at least 25 people. The rains came just a week into the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1, and demonstrate the severe devastation this hurricane season is likely to bring.
Haiti is still reeling from last year’s earthquake, which displaced millions, killed hundreds of thousands and severely damaged the country’s infrastructure. Millions still live in displacement camps, with nothing more than plastic tents to serve as shelter from the torrential rains. Dozens had to be evacuated as their camps flooded.
These rains and the upcoming hurricane season are also likely to worsen the cholera epidemic in the country, which has already affected 321,066 people and killed 5,337. Cholera is a water-borne disease caused by bacteria that breeds in dirty, standstill water, which in the aftermath of the rains blankets many of Haiti’s displacement camps.
MADRE has been working with KOFAVIV, a local Haitian grassroots women’s organization before and since last year’s earthquake. A few days ago, they updated us on the situation on the ground, calling it “critical” and reporting that many KOFAVIV agents living in the camps have lost their homes in the flooding.
The rains have subsided for now, but as we look ahead to the devastation that this hurricane season may yet bring, it is important that we support relief efforts that include women and listen to their demands. As pillars of their communities, women know how best to rebuild. And as they continue their tireless work to rebuild neighborhoods and deliver lifesaving aid a year and a half after the earthquake hit, no one is better prepared to spring into action when the next disaster strikes.
On a recent trip by MADRE staff, we visited our partners at KOFAVIV.
KOFAVIV and MADRE have co-founded “The KOFAVIV Women’s Center” a refuge that provides essential services for rape survivors. The center has become a critical resource for the women it serves. Women who arrive at the center traumatized by an attack immediately are cared for by KOFAVIV members, who accompany rape survivors to urgent medical care and legal services.
Many of the girls who use the center are orphans and are forced into survival sex to provide themselves with the most basic daily necessities, such as food or a sliver of soap. With even a little support, like a pair of flip flops or the promise of a meal, KOFAVIV is able to pull these girls out of that cycle. KOFAVIV also provides counseling, human rights trainings and arts programming, to help women and girls on the path to rebuilding their lives.
Since the earthquake, Haitian women have faced an epidemic of sexual violence in the displacement camps of Port-au-Prince. Every day, new women who have survived rape arrive at the KOFAVIV Women’s Center. Over half of these cases of rape involve girls under the age of 17—the youngest rape survivor we met was 4 years old. Since September, the KOFAVIV Center has treated more than 350rape survivors, and every week, 400 women come for peer-to-peer counseling sessions.
But many obstacles remain. Malya Villard-Appolon, one of the leaders of KOFAVIV, told us that one of the young girls had stopped attending the peer-to-peer counseling sessions. Concerned for her well-being, they sought her out in the displacement camp where she lives. She told them that she had stopped coming to the trainings because she had lost her only pair of shoes and couldn’t make the walk to the Center. For other women and girls, the inability to afford the cost of transportation throughout Port-au-Prince keeps them from visiting the center, and KOFAVIV has launched a concerted but difficult effort to help cover these costs.
To help bring their services to women and girls, KOFAVIV is hoping to move more of their workshops into the displacement camps. The plan is to start new workshops in seven camps with 40 girls in each. Eventually, as they grow through the mentorship of KOFAVIV’s leaders, these girls will also become role models for other young girls struggling to heal from rape.
Your support helps make KOFAVIV’s life-saving services possible – thank you.
Equipping Medical Staff in Haiti
MADRE has been working with Partners in Health to support Zanmi Lasante as they continue providing emergency care for the earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince and for those who have managed to flee the city.
Through the support and cooperation of many aid agencies, within the first days after the earthquake, the general hospital in Port-au-Prince (HUEH) was equipped to receive survivors. Since then, medical staff has been working around the clock to treat the many severe injuries people sustained during the disaster.
Zanmi Lasante medical staff has also been receiving patients in their clinics and at field hospitals around Haiti to deal with the flow of patients fleeing Port-au-Prince. Medical staff has reported that the need for orthopedic surgeons is dropping, but that there is an increased need for post-operational care.
Ophelia Dahl, Executive Director of Partners in Health, reported from her trip to Haiti this week that the hospitals and clinics are still receiving people with untreated injuries, a full two weeks after the disaster.
Women's Health Delegation Responds to the Most Pressing Health Needs in Haiti
MADRE partnered with Circle of Health International (COHI) to send several teams of women's health workers into Haiti over the last two weeks. Seven volunteers are now on the ground in Haiti, working out of Fond Parisien, a Haitian town on the border with the Dominican Republic. Every day, more earthquake survivors arrive in packed buses as they flee the devastation of Port-au-Prince. In addition to serving the general population of survivors, the volunteers are caring for pregnant women and victims of sexual abuse.
One team member has begun the Rapid Health Assessment, an assessment to identify the most pressing women's health needs. To this end, a group of Haitian women have been hired to conduct interviews and they are currently being trained in interviewing skills.
Providing Medical Care to the Most Vulnerable
MADRE is working with SOFA, a national Haitian women's organization, to provide medical services to earthquake survivors. SOFA and MADRE partnered in 1996 to build Klinik Fanm, the first Haitian clinic dedicated exclusively to women's health and human rights. Though the clinic building was damaged in the earthquake, the doctors and women's health practitioners have managed to set up a temporary clinic for survivors, and they are treating a steady stream of patients every day.
Zanmi Lasante staff continue to work around the clock to provide care to the many injured and sick still arriving at Port-au-Prince's General Hospital (HUEH), as well as at their clinics and at field hospitals they set up during the first week after the earthquake.
MADRE has been working with Partners in Health to provide Zanmi Lasante with medicine and medical supplies.
Andrew Marx, Partners in Health's Director of Communications, recently returned from Haiti. In his words:
"...inspired is what I felt upon seeing our Haitian partner organization Zanmi Lasante spring into action, doing what they do best—what they've been doing for over 25 years—working in partnership with the residents of destitute communities to provide quality health care and essential social services."
Staff at the clinics and the hospitals have noticed a change in the type of injuries they are seeing. Many people who sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the earthquake are now coming in to seek treatment. Doctors are very worried about the high numbers of people who are at risk of infection from untreated wounds. MADRE will continue to work with our partners in Haiti to respond to the needs of people affected by the earthquake.
Over a week after the massive earthquake struck Haiti, the need for life-saving medical services remains overwhelming. Casualty estimates have risen. The death toll may be as high as 200,000 and the number of injured and homeless is in the millions.
MADRE is continuing our emergency efforts to get medicines and medical supplies to Haiti through the Dominican Republic. A shipment of supplies arrived Wednesday, January 20, and more supplies are expected in the coming days. Right now, the biggest concern is for replenishing stocks of antibiotics in order to fight off infection.
Operating Rooms Up and Running
Our partners on the ground are working day and night to meet the desperate need for medical treatment. They have set up field hospitals both inside and outside of Port-au-Prince and are performing surgeries to treat widespread bone injuries and infections. MADRE is working in support of Zanmi Lasante, a Haitian healthcare organization founded by Partners in Health.
At the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, there are now 12 functioning operating rooms, with surgeries being performed day and night in each. Outside of the city, in the Central Plateau and Artibonite regions, there are eight more operating rooms for the busloads of people fleeing the city each day.
Though the 6.1 aftershock quake that struck Haiti yesterday morning caused the evacuation of the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, no structural damage resulted, and the hospital was able to quickly restore order and continue operations.
MADRE is also supporting a delegation of midwives and maternal health practitioners. Four members of the first team of midwives and maternal health providers have arrived in the border town of Jimani, and three more are scheduled to arrive this weekend.
We just got off the phone with Leilani Johnson of Circle of Health International (COHI), the organization MADRE is partnering with in this initiative. Leilani told us that the minute the team arrived, they began providing crucial medical services to people seriously injured and displaced from Port-au-Prince.
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