Damarie Egide Voight, St. Damien Hospital Communication Officer
Haiti has descended into hell since its tourism boom of the 1980s. Haitians lost their political stability long ago, even before the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed approximately 250,000 people, causing considerable damage to the country’s infrastructure. In recent years, the fragile political landscape has deteriorated, coupled with increasing violent crime and civil unrest. This instability is on top of Haiti’s social ills. According to World Bank 60% of Haiti’s 11.26 million population live in poverty. The overall insecurity also plagues those who do not live in poverty.
Haitians have a lot of issues on their minds nowadays. Some current problems include the threat of violence every time they leave the house due to gangs and juvenile delinquency, the lack of access to quality healthcare, and the scarcity of social justice and transparency. The national government faces frequent, sometimes violent, protests from the opposition, which often results in barricaded streets causing a lack of mobility. Another concern is the devaluation of the Haitian currency, the gourde, against the United States dollar, which has impacted NPH Haiti St. Damien and other organizations throughout the country.
Kidnappings is also a constant fear. The list of people who have been held hostage, some raped, tortured, humiliated, or executed even after payment of the ransom, continues to grow. The streets of Port-au-Prince, a metropolitan area of over 2.5 million, are becoming empty. Instead, their fear now holds them hostage at home.
Haiti’s kidnapping phenomenon began between 2004-2006. In the following years, there was an apparent decline, with only isolated cases. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence which has now turned into a flourishing industry that has enriched the country’s gangs and mafia networks.
Kidnappings increased alarmingly in 2020, with 234 cases reported in 2020. According to the Center for Human Rights Analysis and Research, 25 cases of kidnapping were reported in March 2021, compared to 50 in February 2021 and 65 cases in January 2021. However, the exact figure is unknown as there seems to be a large silent majority of victims who prefer not to speak publicly about their experience due to reprisals and fear of the criminals.
Some victim’s families are left in permanent debt with no escape from poverty. Cohesion in the community has eroded and the psychological scars will impact future generations. The criminality has also led to an exodus of Haitians leaving the country in search of a better future. Infighting between police authorities only escalates the problem. Meanwhile, anti-government protests and strikes are the weapons Haitians use to demand justice every day but to whom? The national government seems to remain deaf to their requests.
IMPACT ON ST. DAMIEN PEDIATRIC HOSPITAL
While the security situation remains volatile, everyday life becomes more unworkable for the general population. Haiti’s problems, unfortunately, are also impeding the proper functioning of NPH’s St. Damien Hospital. In times of trouble, the hospital is faced with real problems that require immediate responses. As Haiti experiences more impromptu crises, no one can predict when the next emergency will strike.
Currently, St. Damien’s medical staff are having to work 24-hour shifts. This means that the hospital must provide them with accommodation on the hospital grounds, as they are unable to make it home due to the insecurity. This places a heavy burden on the hospital’s already limited resources. Also, the hospital needs to provide safe transportation for its employees. Its ambulances are used for this purpose, an additional cost due to increased fuel usage and vehicular wear, which during the recent lockdown, has cost the hospital approximately US$3,570. The ambulances are still needed for emergencies as well.
On top of the growing costs, the hospital is also struggling with other challenges. There is difficulty in obtaining medication and other vital equipment and materials. The overall stress impacts the performance of the overworked staff who have to carry out important procedures. Many skilled workers are leaving the country as the insecurity escalates. Fewer patients are going to the outpatient clinics, which means many people are not getting the necessary medical care. However, emergency cases are rising.
So far, St. Damien Hospital has not been directly attacked. However, gunshots are frequent in the Tabarre area of Port-au-Prince. Staff sometimes passes the remains of burning barricades as they return home from a shift. Employees are afraid to speak on the record about the problems, preferring to remain anonymous due to potential reprisals.
A nurse describes how fearful he/she is when out on the streets, saying, “It’s really hard to find the exact words about the impact the country has had on my life. I’m afraid of the long-term consequences. It stresses me out a lot, especially since I was once assaulted.”
The nurse continues, “If I am in the streets late and on foot, I constantly look over my shoulder in fear. I have become suspicious of everyone I know. In the morning when I go to work, I am always alone in the car. I have to drive at fast speeds, which risks an accident, but it keeps me safe from any potential kidnapper.
“I’m still energized, but the hardest part is that we are powerless and we can’t do anything about it. The state and police cannot do much. Our only recourse, our great strength in this fight, is God. So far, only He can guarantee our protection and security.”
Another employee, who also prefers to remain anonymous, says, “The Haitian police, who ought to guarantee our safety, are powerless to stop the insecurity we experience daily. We young Haitians who dreamed of a better Haiti are ashamed of these people connected to the gangs, who don’t care how their actions impact the Haitian population in such a destructive way.
“We have entered into a decaying phase, where the doors of our schools and churches are forced to stay closed, even for entertainment events. I live with despair, I feel that stress is slowly killing me. Despite the efforts made to improve my living conditions in Haiti, I feel that this will come to nothing. I’m really sick of it,” concludes the employee.
CURRENT NEEDS AT ST. DAMIEN HOSPITAL
Right now, the needs at St. Damien Hospital are mostly structural. As always, there is a need for tools and personal protective equipment. However, there are also other urgent needs, such as getting a new generator to deal with blackouts, the expansion of the operating suite, renovations to the sanitary block, building a mortuary, updating the computer and telecommunications system, updating the time clock system, obtaining an air purifier, rebuilding the waste disposal system, and setting up the backyard parking lot.
The hospital also needs to strengthen its security infrastructure due to the growing instability which exposes the hospital to various risks. Needed improvements include increasing the number of cameras, adding more lighting, and building reinforced fences.
St. Damien Hospital is currently the only pediatric hospital in the country. It receives patients from all areas of the country, is open 24 hours a day and every day of the week, always ready to offer quality care to all Haitians.