Haiti: As Need Increases, Aid Workers Face Complications, Constraints

Doctors Without Borders and medical staff aboard the USNS Comfort struggle to provide medical care in Haiti; meanwhile, US chain drugstores respond with a generous show of support.

Doctors Without Borders and medical staff aboard the USNS Comfort struggle to provide medical care in Haiti; meanwhile, US chain drugstores respond with a generous show of support.

Officials have yet to agree on a confirmed death toll for the earthquake that ravaged Haiti 1 week ago, but current estimates suggest that number may be as high as 200,000, with nearly 250,000 injured and 1.5 million left homeless.

Wednesday morning’s aftershock, which registered at an astounding magnitude of 6.0 on the Richter scale, rattled the nerves of survivors still suffering from untreated injuries sustained in the original earthquake. The country’s already weak infrastructure has been obliterated by the disaster, and aid workers are scrambling to meet the growing needs of Haitian citizens, whose health conditions are likely to worsen in the coming weeks. Now, more than ever, Haitians are relying on the international community to provide much-needed access to food, supplies, and medical treatment.

While aid efforts are underway, the challenges posed by Haiti’s infrastructure are causing unexpected delays. As food and water supplies remain limited, hunger and dehydration are also a growing problem, exacerbating infections and delaying the healing process for many patients. Surgical care is a pressing need, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Wednesday, along with logistics support to coordinate incoming shipments. Doctors have neither the space nor the supplies needed to perform urgent procedures, forcing many patients requiring immediate surgeries to wait.

Despite this, planes deployed by Doctors Without Borders carrying drugs and surgical equipment have been diverted from Haiti’s small airport as recently as Tuesday. Although 135 tons of supplies carried by 5 planes have been successfully delivered so far, an additional 195 tons are scheduled, and restrictions on airport access are a critical hindrance to the operation.

Efforts to reach Haiti by sea may prove more successful. The USNS Comfort, which treated victims during Hurricane Katrina and the September 11 attacks, arrived Wednesday with approximately 600 medical personnel on board. The 900-foot ship is equipped to perform immediate life-saving surgeries, and will meet a portion of the urgent need identified by the WHO. The floating hospital has admitted its first round of patients, starting with a 6-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man, both of whom were flown to the ship via helicopter as it approached Haiti. Patients have since streamed aboard the ship, and many are finally receiving the surgeries they desperately need.

As aid operations continue to make slow but steady progress, donations are pouring in from around the world. Financial aid will be an ongoing component of both short- and long-term strategies to provide relief Haiti, and many businesses from the healthcare industry are making large contributions. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) has seen a tremendous response from its members, especially in donations to the Red Cross. NACDS has reported a collective total of over $1 million in corporate donations by NACDS members CVS Caremark, Rite Aid, Target, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart. Many are also participating in additional fundraising efforts through in-store donation drives, employee-match programs, and donation portals posted on the retailers’ Web sites.