Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Waiting For Medical Supplies, Haitians Die



By GARY BAUMGARTEN
Paltalk News Network


It seems almost unfathomable. But a full week after the earthquake in Haiti, patients, many who were rescued by heroic actions by Haitians and others who rushed from other nations - are dying because of a shortage of medical supplies.

How is this possible?

Pallets of supplies are supposedly at the ready for major disasters like this in warehouses around the world. The airport at Port-au-Prince, while crippled, is open.

I know about disorganization following disasters. There's always some - and it always lasts longer than one would like. We saw a lack of coordination and experienced difficulties getting aid to victims of Katrina here in the United States, for example. There was much public discourse during the initial phases of the response and later. Lessons, presumably, were learned.

But learning lessons and correcting the mistakes uncovered are two different things. It appears from all the reporting from Haiti - and there's a lot of it - that no one seemingly is in charge.

No one is making the decisions about what supplies go where. No one is properly triaging what goes through first.

The three obvious needs immediately following the earthquake were water, food and medical supplies. Even housing - in the form of tents or relocation - could wait a day or two. Better to sleep on the streets while getting nourishment and medical treatment than sleeping in tents and dying.

The reports from the various doctor-reporters in Haiti are heart wrenching. Two doctors attending to a hospital of patients. One doctor left behind to treat patients at another. A nurse-trainee - alone - trying to care for patients at a third.

And with no antiseptic, the doctors and nurses are turning to vodka and rum with their alcohol content, as a substitute.

And still - seven days later - people who were injured, rescued, and removed to makeshift hospitals - are dying.

The first disaster in Haiti was natural (although compounded by poor construction). The one we are seeing unfolding - live on television - is entirely man made.

Some things, of course, are ot of anyone's control. No one could have stopped the earthquake, nor today's powerful aftershock. But some challenges can be met. It's not as if this is the first major disaster the world community has responded to. Lessons have been learned in the past. More lessons are being learned now. But will changes be made in the response to future disasters? And, more importantly today, will changes be made in Haiti now? Or will more people needlessly die?

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Photo: UNICEF

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