Haiti’s healthcare system is on the verge of collapse as the gang war rages on

Haiti’s health care system has virtually collapsed amid the brutal mob insurgency that forced the resignation of the country’s prime minister, leaving victims of the violence with little hope of medical help, aid workers in the stricken Caribbean country said.

Over the past two weeks, hospitals have been set on fire, doctors murdered and the most basic medical supplies dried up. Only one public hospital in Haiti’s capital is now still operational – and it is also expected to close its doors soon.

“The health care system in Port-au-Prince is effectively non-existent,” said Mackynzie Archer, a consultant who advises leading medical NGOs in Haiti. “Things are deteriorating rapidly.”

Fighting between heavily armed gangs and security forces has paralyzed Haiti’s capital in the worst episode of violence the Caribbean country has seen in decades.

Armed bandits attacked police stations, government buildings and the international airport, achieving their objective on Monday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced he would resign once a transition council was appointed.

But as political factions try to assert themselves, violence has continued. About half of Haiti’s population is hungry, water and electricity are scarce, and civilians are hit by stray bullets every day.

At least 15,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the latest wave of gunfights, the UN estimates, bringing the total number of internally displaced people to more than 360,000.

“Port-au-Prince residents have been reduced to forced nomads, constantly moving between neighborhoods, seeking refuge with family or strangers, or staying in temporary shelter,” said Laurent Uwumuremyi, Haiti director at US charity Mercy Corps . “Fear permeates every corner.”

The outbreak of street warfare has caused a spike in emergency admissions of patients for injuries, just as most hospitals — unable to get the staff, power or basic medical supplies they need — are closing their doors.

Several facilities, including St. Francis de Sales, one of the capital’s last remaining trauma care centers, and the Jude-Anne Hospital, which treats emergency patients, have been set on fire and plundered.

“They took everything: the operating rooms, the X-rays, everything from the labs and the pharmacies,” said Dr. Ronald V. LaRoche told the New York Times. “Proposals! They take windows from hospitals! Doors!”

Even before the current unrest, armed men controlled the city’s main roads and access to the port, choking the supply of anesthetics, blood and oxygen.

“It was not uncommon for patients to have to wait in a hospital bed for a month for routine surgery because there are no medical supplies to operate on them,” Archer said.

Health care workers stay home to avoid being caught in the crossfire of street skirmishes or killed by teenagers with assault rifles for providing medical treatment to police or rival gang members.

Dr. Nathalie Barthélémy became Laurent the latest fatality in healthcare On Tuesday, gunmen shot her car with bullets near her home in Port-au-Prince.

At the State University of Haiti Hospital, a general medical care center in downtown Port-au-Prince, BBC reporters found no medical staff in a clinic full of patients – just a corpse covered in flies decomposing in the tropical heat .

“There are no doctors, they all fled last week,” one patient told the BBC.

The people of Haiti have faced enormous challenges in recent decades, including a deadly cholera outbreak and an earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people.

skip the newsletter promotion

But the recent anarchy has overshadowed previous episodes of despair, said Francesco Segoni, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), who likened the current humanitarian situation to that of a war zone.

A recent MSF study in the Cite Soleil gang area found that four in 10 deaths were caused by violence – a figure comparable to that in Raqqa when the Syrian city was dominated by Islamic State and destroyed by an international bombing campaign.

“The violence is virtually uncontrolled. There is no place in Port-au-Prince that is safe today,” Segoni said.

The crisis is also causing unnecessary deaths among pregnant women and the elderly, who die because they cannot find life-saving hospital or treatment medicines that are considered basic in most parts of the world.

“The gangs and the politicians cannot reach an agreement and the population pays a price,” said Flavia Maurello, head of the Italian charity AVSI in Haiti.

Caribbean leaders and the US have backed a plan that would see a transitional council take over from Henry. But several key factions have refused to participate, while gang leader Jimmy “Barbeque” Chérizier – the apparent architect of the current unrest – has rejected any solution supported by the international community.

Doctors Without Borders and other NGOs have managed to open mobile clinics in some areas, but it remains unclear how long they will be able to operate safely.

“We fear we will run out of medicines and medical supplies that are absolutely essential to meet the enormous needs we face in the U.S. moment,” said Mumuza Muhindo Musubaho, head of MSF operations in Haiti.

At Bernard Mevs, a 50-bed intensive care clinic in the north of the capital, nurses are desperately trying to keep patients alive with bare-bones staff and no electricity, Archer said.

“It is likely that they will also close within the next week, which will be the final blow to the health care system in Port-au-Prince.”