Published January 14, 2010
Doctors on the ground in Haiti are reporting a dire need for medical attention in the stricken Caribbean nation as it copes with the chaos and devastation of Tuesday's massive earthquake.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) teams, who were already in the country working on medical projects, were some of the first to respond after the 7.0 quake hit.
"Where we are focusing our energy is on the rapid influx of patients from neighborhoods who know of our services," Paul McPhun, MSF’s operation director for Haiti, said in a teleconference call. “The best we can offer them at the moment is first aid care and stabilization.”
The international organization had three initial areas set up in the capital of Port-au-Prince where they were providing emergency care, but McPhun said all of those centers have been severely damaged and are not suitable to treat patients.
As a result, tents have been set up at those sites to care for the severely injured. As of Wednesday, the organization said they had found two public hospitals in good condition and would begin treating about 500 people who need emergency surgery.
But one of the mission's directors said the humanitarian group doesn't have enough medical staff, equipment and medicine to properly care for the injured. The mission has about 800 medical workers in Haiti, but a large number haven't been located since Tuesday's quake, Stefano Zannini said.
"Most of them are dispersed somewhere, are lost somewhere," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "We are not sure where they are."
About 800 injured people have come to the mission's offices for treatment, Zannini said. They've scattered themselves around a courtyard, sleeping in tents, on top of rugs, on the floor and on plastic sheeting, waiting to be transferred to one of the two hospitals identified as being safe enough to withstand the aftershocks that have rattled Haiti.
"We saw every kind of person: Women, men, young, old, children, pregnant women coming and asking for help," Zannini said.
More than 500 people need immediate surgical intervention. But in the next couple of days, the mission will run out of gasoline to transport patients and food and water, Zannini said.
Others on the ground said the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is completely unable to "cope with the scale of this disaster."
"There are hundreds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless," Hans van Dillen, a coordinator for MSF, said in a news release. "We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we cannot forward people to proper surgery at this stage."
McPhun said one of the group's main priorities is to reestablish a level of surgical capacity as soon as possible. The agency is sending out a 100-bed hospital with an inflatable surgical unit, consisting of two operating rooms and seven hospitalization tents. MSF is also trying to secure more medical staff.
"We’re currently putting rapid response plans into place based out of North America and Europe," McPhun said. "We should have another 70 international staff available over the next few days with specialties available to respond to these more immediate medical emergency needs."
Dr. Michael Anderson, a pediatric intensive care physician at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland said he could be sent to Haiti at anytime. He’s a senior medical officer with the National Disaster Medical System, which consists of more than 45 geographically based medical teams across the country.
"If we were sent down there, we would try to organize a two-prong attack," Anderson told FoxNews.com.
"First we would identify children’s hospitals here in the U.S. that could receive injured children from Haiti. Second, if the call goes forth for non-governmental organizations, we will find medical professionals that would be willing to go down to Haiti. We’re coordinating that right now, but it’s in the very early stages."
The International Red Cross said a third of Haiti’s 9 million people may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge.
"In a disaster like this you see the initial trauma victims – patients who are critically injured," Anderson said. "But as the living conditions deteriorate, then you have to worry about diseases like cholera from tainted water, poor sewage, E. coli and other diseases that spread because there are no proper living conditions. The second wave is when disease spreads," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.