COVID-19 in Haiti: MSF raises an alert over alarming spread
In response to the growing spread of COVID-19 in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) opened the Drouillard treatment center in Port-au- Prince on May 16, to care for patients suffering from the most severe cases of the virus.
Since opening, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Haiti has spiked dramatically from 100 cases to more than 2600, and 50 deaths. With just two laboratories in the country able to handle tests, the number of registered cases is far lower than the actual number.
The capital, Port-au-Prince, with a population of four million, is the epicenter of the disease, with nearly 75% of the total cases reported and 60% of the deaths. Sixty percent of the cases reported are between the age of 20-44, and 27% are between 45-65 years of age.
MSF opened the COVID-19 care center with 20 beds, but has expanded to a capacity of 45 beds. More than 150 patients have been registered, nearly half of whom have been admitted to hospital. Approximately 50 others have been monitored on an outpatient basis by our teams.
“Some patients come to us with positive test results and others who are in need of oxygen or hospitalization are treated, as we send their test to a government-run laboratory,” says Hassan Issa, Haiti MSF Head of Mission.
In Port-au-Prince and in the south, in Port-à-Piment and Port-Salut, MSF has set up triage spaces and isolation units for COVID-19 patients in all health structures the organization supports. MSF has also installed a triage space and an isolation unit with a capacity of 10 beds in the main hospital in Les Cayes, in the south.
COVID-19 cases have been reported in all ten departments in the country, and the Haitian government has declared a state of emergency, asking people to practice social distancing and wear masks. But, it has been impossible for most people to follow the measures, particularly those who live in the densely populated slums of the capital, where the highest number of cases have been reported.
Among the many challenges facing the country is the ongoing return of thousands of Haitian migrants from the neighboring Dominican Republic, which has the largest cluster in the Caribbean, with more than 17,000 registered cases.
MSF is also concerned that many people with COVID-19 symptoms are not going to hospital for treatment. “As the spread of the virus accelerates, so does the stigma surrounding it. Unfortunately, a dozen patients have died on arrival at the hospital, and many others have arrived in critically ill condition. In light of that, we continue to carry out health promotion activities and call on those who have COVID-19 symptoms to seek immediate care, as it can greatly improve their chance of being treated successfully,” says Hassa Issa.
There are fears the Haiti health care system, which is already fragile, is ill prepared to deal with the widening pandemic. In some communities, centers set up to receive coronavirus patients have been attacked. In addition, several health facilities have closed due to a lack of protective equipment and contamination of staff, making access to obstetric, pediatric and trauma care difficult. The provision of protective equipment in those structures is essential to allow continuity of care and protect staff.
And, with the huge demand on laboratories for tests, and longer wait times for results, the issue of testing is increasingly becoming an important challenge to control not only the spread of the disease, but also to provide adequate and timely care.