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First impressions of the Haiti disaster

I’m the Emergency Health Advisor with Save the Children supporting the response to the Haiti earthquake. I arrived at midnight yesterday in the Dominican Republic, as it is still difficult to fly directly to Port-au-Prince.

One hour later I was in a minibus with six others travelling for 8 hours through the night to get to Port-au-Prince, with large numbers of trucks and NGO vehicles taking the same route. The exhaustion vanished as soon as I arrived and could get to work (unfortunately for others – getting to work didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t had a shower either).

The Save the Children office is in an area badly affected by the earthquake, with many of surrounding buildings collapsed and roads damaged. The office is a hubbub of activity with a team of 50 international Save the Children staff, an even larger number of staff from Haiti, office grounds looking more like a campsite with tents and bucket showers, and large crowds outside hoping for temporary work.

When I first arrive, my initial impression is of the immensity of the disaster. Every Haitian is affected personally. It’s also incredibly difficult to tackle this emergency, despite the huge international presence on ground, due to the impact of the earthquake on the health workers, the organisations previously operating on-the-ground, the government and the infrastructure (roads etc,). Everyone and everything is affected in some way.

Health problems facing Haitians

The health situation is serious, with the collapse of many health facilities, and disruption to the country’s infrastructure leading to almost no supplies of essential medicines or medical supplies getting into Haiti.

The earthquake itself also causes health risks. The first problem is managing the severe injuries that people suffered in the earthquake. After that there is the risk of infectious diseases spreading through the population — we have already heard reports of diarrhoea in the make-shift camps that have been set up in Port-au-Prince. However at the moment the main issue people are facing is a lack of food.

Where we’re responding

Save the Children is responding in 3 areas to these health risks: in Leogane (near to the epicentre of the earthquake), in Jacmel on the south coast, and in Port-au-Prince itself. Save the Children is one of the first organisations to have started health activities, through our mobile clinics and by providing medicines to health facilities.

Making an impact with the resources available

I have been looking at what approach we should take to this immense disaster to make the maximum impact with the resources available. We are looking at establishing mobile clinics to provide essential health services in a number of the areas and carrying out community health activities. We are also preventing infectious diseases through immunisations, the distribution of mosquito nets and health messages (communicated over the radio or in pamphlets, for example).

When I first arrive, my initial impression is of the immensity of the disaster. Every Haitian is affected personally. It’s also incredibly difficult to tackle this emergency, despite the huge international presence on ground, due to the impact of the earthquake on the health workers, the organisations previously operating on-the-ground, the government and the infrastructure (roads etc,). Everyone and everything is affected in some way.

Personal impact of the quake

This morning there was an opportunity to reflect on the personal impact of the disaster for the Haiti Save the Children team. The team has lost one member of staff and every team member has experienced the personal loss of family, loved ones and numerous friends.

This was a very touching reminder of the personal impact of this earthquake, and how we all need to work together to stop more people from losing loved ones in the aftermath this tragedy.

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