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Twenty days after the earthquake: Cuba still flying the flag in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, February 1st—Twenty days after the earthquake that mercilessly shook this capital, when many foreign aid workers were leaving for their peaceful worlds with the final photo confirming their presence on Haitian soil, 938 doctors from Cuba, including 380 Haitian doctors trained in Cuba, are still saving lives here, despite the difficult situation they have experienced and the one seen approaching.
Cuba was the first country to reach out to the desperate Haitian people when the clouds of dust left by the quake had not yet dissipated. That night of January 12, hundreds of Haitians were running with family members in their arms to the place where, for 10 years, the Cuban doctors have been located. A legion of the wounded, of the dead, flooded the streets. And while chaos overwhelmed medical attention in the initial hours, now organization prevails in the capital’s three hospitals and the four field hospitals where our doctors are working.
According to Dr. Carlos Alberto García, a member of the Cuban coordination team, many collaborators from other nations are returning to their countries, considering the emergency situation to be over. "For us, the emergency continues, but in another dimension, not now from the surgical point of view, but with other sicknesses that are appearing as a consequence of the disaster, among them diarrheal and respiratory infections, skin lesions, and malaria, parasites and typhoid fever."
Twenty days after the earthquake, the most significant aspect of Cuban aid is having achieved comprehensive attention to patients. That is confirmed by their curative work, health promotion, vector controls and rehabilitation, this last service essential for a population greatly affected by traumatic injuries and amputations. These are some of the figures: as of yesterday (January 31), more than 50,000 patients had received medical attention, 3,400 of whom underwent operations, 1,500 of which were complex, and which include approximately 1,100 amputations.
Dr. Carlos Alberto informed us that nine rehabilitation wards have been set up, which will have a major impact, "because even before the earthquake, Haiti had no public service of this kind."
Not everything has been death and disaster in the wake of the earthquake. The Cuban and Haitian doctors trained on the island have attended 280 births, 183 of them by cesarean section, above all in the field hospitals where, as the doctor confirmed, the basic conditions are in place to perform them.
In addition, our doctors are "assaulting" plazas and parks where thousands of Haitians are living crammed together. Yesterday Granma was present to witness the anti-tetanus vaccination campaign which transformed the day in the Port-au-Prince football stadium, flooded by hundreds of Haitians made homeless by the quake. Many children, still crying, had been immunized, along with everyone else who went there. A yellow card corroborated the injection. As a consequence, Dr. García confirmed that 20,000 people in Port-au-Prince had been vaccinated. And that they were also incorporating a triple vaccine against diphtheria, measles and whooping cough.
In order not to leave any loose ends, the medical cooperation also includes mental health care and, to that end, a team of psychologists and psychiatrists have arrived from Cuba and are preparing to work with children and young adults in the camps, plazas and parks of Port-au-Prince.
In order to support this health "invasion," construction workers are speeding up repairs on five Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers that were shut down after the earthquake. Two of them will be ready in a few days’ time. They will bring to seven the number that are providing services in various Haitian departments. The other three, to make a total of 10, will be delayed for some weeks more.
These have been days of dedication. Our doctors, still living in difficult field conditions, adopting austerity as their motto, and witnessing the horror at close quarters, get up every morning with all their energy focused on healing. Cuba will continue to fly its flag in Haiti for as long as the people need it.
Source: Granma International
Photos by Juvenal Balán