As you’re likely aware, an immensely destructive earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. It was centered in the capital city Port-au-Prince, home to over 2 million residents, and destroyed buildings, food and water systems, hospitals, and seemingly the national government. The information and photos coming out of the country have been disturbing and heartbreaking. The full scope of the damage – to the people, to the country – has yet to be determined, but it is surely catastrophic.
The effect of the disaster on Haitians with disabilities is similarly devastating. Although the earthquake and subsequent building collapses happened so quickly that neither PWD nor TAB had an opportunity to get to safety, conditions after the quake are likely disproportionately difficult for PWDs. The streets are covered in debris and destruction, there is no electricity, and people need to scavenge for any available food and water. Additionally, literally all of the medical facilities in the city were destroyed in the quake, so there is no access to medications, doctors, anything. Even now, four days after the quake, there is extremely limited emergency care in Port-au-Prince, with people traveling 6 hours by car to one of the few undamaged hospitals in the country for emergency surgery.
In addition, there are an untold number of people who are newly disabled due to the catastrophe and its aftermath. Most of the injuries are open compound fractures, where broken bones have penetrated the skin. These require immediate surgery to re-set the bone and close the wound to prevent infection – which injured patients haven’t been able to get. These people haven’t gotten food and water, much less antibiotics.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton reported that “most of these patients have not eaten in three days. They are profoundly dehydrated and they have crush injuries to their long limbs, upper arms, body and, in some cases, open pelvic fractures, which set the scene for some very serious and life-threatening infection. In addition, when limbs get crushed like that, if they don’t have surgical management immediately, they risk losing that limb as the swelling and infection really take off and that’s what we’re seeing.” Ann Curry reported that desperate doctors were performing surgery on injured children without anesthetics. It is also likely that a number of survivors will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After the tsunami of 2004, PTSD rates averaged about 10% in the population.
It’s important to note that not everyone injured in the quake is subject to these conditions. American citizens were evacuated by U.S. Air Force planes and other chartered planes to be treated in United States hospitals. This Anchorage woman had her lower right leg crushed by rubble and was then evacuated to a hospital in Miami, where her foot was amputated. These conditions are affecting people without the money or resources to get adequate care. And they are exacerbated by the poverty and unstable infrastructure that existed prior to the quake. (Which the U.S. and France and other colonial powers created and sustained, but that’s more than I can get into with this post.)
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by this, but there are things you can do to help:
- Portlight Strategies, Inc. focuses on Haitians with disabilities. It works with a community of Catholic nuns who will be opening shelters in Port-au-Prince for PWDs, and donated funds will go to “defray shipping costs of medical and clinical equipment … and for the purchase of food and other shelter supplies.”
- Healing Hands for Haiti has been providing prosthetic and orthodic services and supplies to Haitians with disabilities since 1998 and will be deploying staff and equipment to help PWDs.
- Christian Blind Mission, an organization focused on PWDs in the developing world, partners with local organizations in a number of medical facilities throughout Haiti. Donations will “support its Partners in the affected area with emergency assistance and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.”
- Aid for AIDS is collecting medical supplies, including unused medications. They are especially interested in antiretrovirals to help Haitians with AIDS whose treatment has been interrupted by the disaster. There are drop-off points throughout the US, or you can send them to Aid for AIDS at 120 Wall Street, 26 Floor
New York, N.Y. 10005.
- Partners in Health is also seeking donations of these specific items: “need specific items urgently: orthopedic supplies, surgical consumables (sutures, bandages, non-powdered sterile gloves, syringes, etc), blankets, tents, satellite phones with minutes, and large unopened boxes of medications. No small quantities or unused personal medications will be accepted.“
Please also remember to take care of yourself during this time. It’s been easy for me to spend hours reading articles, looking at photos, watching footage, and feeling increasingly overwhelmed and helpless. Don’t lose track of your own health and well being.