SANTIAGO, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Haiti’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been stalled by Saturday’s quake and medical personnel, equipment and logistical support is urgently needed to help the country deal with multiple health emergencies, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne told a virtual briefing that scores of hospitals in three regions had been either damaged or destroyed, while PAHO’s health emergencies director Dr. Ciro Ugarte said the vaccination campaign had stuttered as health teams switched their priorities.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Haiti, we are doing everything possible to assist Haitians in these difficult times,” Etienne said. “The earthquake aftermath combined with the COVID-19 pandemic presents a very challenging situation.
“We hope that the international community can come together to provide the urgently-needed air and ground logistics support to evacuate patients and transport essential humanitarian supplies – this is needed now.”
Saturday’s quake knocked down tens of thousands of buildings in the poorest country in the Americas, killing at least 2,000 people and injuring at least 9,915, with many people still missing or under the rubble. Some 12,000 homes have been seriously damaged, PAHO said, citing government figures.
Relief efforts have been complicated by political turmoil and gang control of some areas. Flooding and landslides in the wake of Tropical Storm Grace has exacerbated the situation.
Etienne said both the Haitian government and aid organizations were experiencing “tremendous difficulties” in moving supplies and personnel into stricken areas, and that PAHO had not been able to deploy sufficient numbers of emergency medical teams.
The PAHO director said that among those killed in the quake of magnitude 7.2 was Dr. Ousmane Toure, a Guinean epidemiologist who worked on the organization’s response to Ebola in West Africa and was helping to address COVID-19 in Haiti.
Haiti’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which only began in July with the arrival of 500,000 doses donated by the U.S. government through the COVAX vaccine distribution scheme, has faltered, said Dr Ugarte. Around 21,000 people have been give a vaccine dose so far.
“Understandably the priority of the health authorities is to save lives and reduce the impact of the earthquake and also healthcare workers are overwhelmed treating trauma patients and evacuating patients, but also treating other diseases and trying to reestablished the services impacted by the earthquake,” he said.
COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising rapidly across the Caribbean, particularly in Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba, as well as rising in Costa Rica and Belize, but cases are falling in most of South America, PAHO said.