Aerial view of Port-Au-Prince. Av Gerard Téodard © Pierre Fromentin/MSF

Haiti: A wave of violence in Port-au-Prince

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is alarmed by the latest wave of violence in Port-au-Prince as its staff have received more than 96 people with gunshot wounds in its medical facilities since April 24, 2022.

From April 24 to May 7, 2022, clashes between armed groups in the northern part of the capital have completely saturated the MSF hospital in Tabarre, one of the few remaining facilities in the area. “The number of trauma admissions received per week tripled compared to mid-April, and most of them are very serious gunshot wounds that require extensive care,” said Mumuza Muhindo, MSF Country Director.

“Maintaining functioning medical structures in these conditions is a daily challenge.”

The street clashes have had a dramatic impact on access to medical care. In the north of the city, which has been particularly hard hit by the violence and has seen a large influx of wounded, five medical facilities were not functional during this period, and two other private hospitals suspended their activities after one of their employees was kidnapped.

Difficult to access hospitals

“I went to two hospitals before arriving at the MSF hospital in Tabarre,” explained a woman with a leg injury, who is now an MSF patient. “One was closed, the other did not have the means to take care of me; they had to rip off my clothes and those of the motorcycle cab driver to bandage me and contain the bleeding.”

Barricades in the streets prevent the movement of vehicles, including ambulances. With no means of transportation, some patients have arrived more than 24 hours after being wounded.

Despite the insecurity in the area, MSF was forced to hastily reopen its emergency center in Cité Soleil, Drouillard, where MSF had stopped working on April 1 because of security concerns.

“Maintaining functioning medical structures in these conditions is a daily challenge,” said Serge Wilfrid Ikoto, MSF medical referent at the Tabarre hospital. “Some of our local medical staff cannot go home. They are at enormous risk every time they travel. We organize 24-hour rotations to limit their movements, but some of them have not returned home for several days in a row.”

Neighbourhoods blocked

In Brooklyn, a densely populated neighborhood, all access roads were blocked at the height of the clashes, except for the sea. The population was trapped, as no one could enter or leave the neighborhood without becoming a target. Even drinking water became scarce, because the water trucks that usually supply this neighborhood could not enter or leave.

“A larger and better-adapted humanitarian response is urgently needed.”

In other neighborhoods affected by armed clashes, many people have fled their homes and are now displaced.

“They set fire to my house, I lost everything,” said a young woman receiving treatment at an MSF medical facility after being shot in the legs. “I’m haunted by the idea of having to go and live in an displacement camp when I get out of the hospital.”

Recurrent and widespread violence are paralyzing the health system in Port-au-Prince. Struggling medical facilities are overstretched by the needs of large numbers of wounded patients, with less capacity to treat other new and existing patients.

“The Haitian population is in an extremely vulnerable situation,” said Muhindo. “Families displaced by the violence need assistance as the cost of living increases day by day, and quality health care is inaccessible. A larger and better-adapted humanitarian response is urgently needed.”