Haiti Earthquake Updates: PIH Clinicians Arrive for Trauma Support, Emergency Care

Zanmi Lasante deploy clinicians to hard-hit areas, support supply shipments in response to Aug. 14 earthquake

Posted on Sep 24, 2021

Injured people are treated under a tarp in a field hospital
Injured people are treated in a field hospital after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on August 14, 2021, in Jeremie, Haiti. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This page will be updated regularly.

September 24

Now more than a month past the August 14 earthquake, Partners In Health (PIH) is transitioning from emergency response to recovery across Haiti’s southern peninsula while supporting mobile clinics, helping local partners obtain needed supplies and medications, and preparing for the reintegration of patients directly served at Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais. 

Meanwhile, PIH teams are advocating for justice for repatriated Haitians forcibly removed in recent days from the United States-Mexico border. In collaboration with human rights and advocacy organizations, PIH has called on President Biden’s administration to stop the unjust and inhumane detainment and removal of Haitian migrants from the border near Del Rio, Texas, where more than 14,000 Haitian migrants have arrived in recent weeks after traveling—sometimes for years—through Central America and Mexico in search of asylum.

Seven daily flights have left in recent days, carrying hundreds of Haitians back to the capital of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien, the largest city along Haiti’s northern coast. This influx of repatriated Haitians has led to heightened nationwide security concerns.

Simultaneously, the team at Zanmi Lasante, PIH’s sister organization in Haiti, has experienced challenges with safe transfer of staff and supplies to the earthquake zone, depending solely on air transport for movement. Partner hospitals also express concern they may run out of supplies and medications should the situation remain unstable.

Nonetheless, PIH’s global supply chain and logistics team is preparing the next flight to Haiti, which will arrive on October 3 and carry ultrasound equipment, orthopedic products, and other supplies essential for the earthquake response.

Zanmi Lasante leadership will soon complete a plan with Haitian government leaders in each of the three departments impacted on how best to continue to support the running of short-term mobile clinics, which Zanmi Lasante and partners are using to bring medical care and attention to remote communities throughout the Grand’Anse, South, and Nippes departments. Meanwhile, the team has noted that international crisis response is slowing down. Several first-response organizations have packed up operations—from those providing medical care to the delivery of hot meals—and left communities and government officials scrambling to fill the void.

Zanmi Lasante, however, remains a firm and reliable partner. Close to 99% of staff is Haitian; they continue responding to the needs of their neighbors, friends, colleagues, and families.

Across the lower Artibonite and Central Plateau regions—where Zanmi Lasante provides the majority of its care, COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out across hospitals and clinics for the general population. In the United States, PIH continues to urge the Biden administration to provide a steady supply of donated vaccines to the Haitian government.

Care continues for earthquake survivors airlifted to Zanmi Lasante’s Hôpital Universitaire in Mirebalais. So far, 31 patients have received specialized care for injuries resulting from the August 14 quake; seven of whom are now awaiting discharge.

August 31

While Partners In Health collaborates with multiple organizations to assess earthquake damage and meet hospitals’ needs across the South of Haiti, the team is deepening its support of mobile clinics in hard-to-reach areas, where many survivors have yet to receive care and support.  

Zanmi Lasante, PIH’s sister organization in Haiti, and its partners completed thorough assessments health clinics and centers across the South to help Haiti’s Ministry of Health determine the extent of earthquake damage and prioritize which facilities are in need of repair or reconstruction. Many buildings suffered such catastrophic damage that clinicians can no longer care for patients within their walls. Zanmi Lasante staff are trying to discover where patients are seeking care instead, so that they can send resources and assistance. 

Among the needs that emerged during that assessment was a dire shortage of oxygen at Hôpital Immaculée Conception in Les Cayes, where the production plant was destroyed during the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14. Canisters could not be refilled, which tragically lead to the death of one infant.  

oxygen tanks at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti
Oxygen tanks stored at Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais. Photo by Nadia Todres for Partners In Health

In response, Zanmi Lasante staff worked with partners to send 40 oxygen cylinders to the region and four oxygen concentrators to the hospital to help meet demand. Meanwhile, at least one patient requiring a regular supply of oxygen was airlifted on Friday to PIH-supported Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, where one to two earthquake survivors have been arriving by helicopter daily for specialized care. As of Tuesday evening, a total of 25 patients have been airlifted to the hospital so far. 

Additionally, Zanmi Lasante has provided supplies and transportation for mobile clinics set up in remote communities across the South, staffed by clinicians from partner Health Equity International’s St. Boniface General Hospital and Hôpital Immaculée Conception. The team will send supporting staff to these clinics in coming days to help relieve local clinicians. 

Mobile clinics are essential in disaster response, as they provide basic emergency and primary care and can serve up to 300 people a day. The clinical team sets up several stations for patients to flow from triage, to evaluation, pharmacy, and treatment tables. Team members care for everything from earthquake-related injuries to prenatal concerns, as patients lack ready access to care or can no longer visit their local clinic, which collapsed in the earthquake.  

This is all happening while COVID-19 remains a concern across Haiti, where the vast majority of people are unvaccinated. The Zanmi Lasante team hopes to soon incorporate COVID-19 vaccination into its earthquake response in the South. Until then, vaccination continues in the Central Plateau, where 50 people received their first or second dose in Hinche on Monday. The team will continue vaccination in Mirebalais this week. 

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August 26

Nearly two weeks after Haiti’s Aug. 14 earthquake, PIH’s response continues to build in the impact zone in the country’s South as staff identify and transport those in need of critical care, deliver much-needed supplies, and deepen partnerships with additional organizations responding to the crisis.

The team at Zanmi Lasante, as PIH is known in Haiti, have focused their efforts in the Les Cayes region, as they develop plans to work with partners in Jérémie. Three graduates of the emergency medicine residency program based at Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM) have been providing care at PIH partner Health Equity International’s St. Boniface General Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs.

Patients continue to be airlifted to HUM on a daily basis, many of whom are recovering from broken bones and severe wounds and need intensive, post-surgical, or neonatal care.

Meanwhile, Zanmi Lasante leaders and partners are planning to launch mobile clinics that will bring care to hard-to-reach areas, where earthquake survivors have yet to receive medical attention.

Looking ahead, the Zanmi Lasante team is developing plans to accompany patients who eventually discharge from HUM. They will be provided a range of services, such as short-term rehabilitation, psychological and social support, wound care kits to prevent infection, and assistance reintegrating back into their communities—especially in cases where patients lost their homes in the 7.2-magnitude earthquake and following destruction from Tropical Storm Grace.

Staff will remain in contact with patients to follow their journey toward healing.

cargo moved onto a plane in Boston
Cargo with medical supplies is unloaded from a plane at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Clare Orie / PIH

The supply chain and logistics team continues to source, pack, and ship cargo on flights to Haiti. A flight transporting urgently needed supplies—mostly related to dialysis and orthopedic and wound care—arrived on Wednesday. Another is scheduled to land Friday with plans for more supplies to arrive in coming days.

And in a sign of unflinching solidarity, Zanmi Lasante staff collected donated food, water, clothing, blankets, toiletries, and wound care supplies and traveled to affected areas in the South so that they could check on colleagues’ families and friends directly affected by the dual disasters. They are, in every sense, an ekip solid—a strong team.

August 24

Now 10 days after the horrific 7.2-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti’s southern peninsula Aug. 14, Partners In Health’s response continues to ramp up and remain strong.

A plane arrived in Haiti over the weekend, carrying everything from vital medical equipment to clinicians. And another plane is expected to leave today, with orthopedic supplies that are essential for treating the severe injuries that result from collapsing buildings.  

PIH is responding with its signature 5 “S” approach: staff, stuff, space, systems, and social support.

Staff: Response teams have been mobilized to the hardest hit areas of southern Haiti, while clinicians at University Hospital are caring for at least 30 patients, nearly all with orthopedic injuries.

Stuff: PIH’s supply chain team is working around the clock to bring needed equipment to all affected areas. Hospital beds, crutches, ultrasound machines, cervical spine collars, and operating room lights are just some of the supplies needed to respond.

Space: University Hospital of Mirebalais, a world-class teaching hospital, was built by PIH and Haiti’s government after the country’s 2010 earthquake. The 350-bed, internationally accredited teaching hospital was completed in 2013 and has six top-quality operating rooms.

Systems: Fully equipped health systems, like those supported by University Hospital, ensure the key elements of quality care: physicians to diagnose conditions correctly and start the correct treatments; medications and supplies; hospital beds to care for patients; and outpatient support programs to help people get back on their feet and stay healthy.

Social Support: Earthquakes can cause mental health illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The recent earthquake risks retraumatizing individuals who were previously affected by the 2010 earthquake. PIH’s mental health teams are working to support individuals through these crises.

Currently PIH teams in Haiti are citing needs for triage tents and volunteer nurses, showing that basic needs for staff and space are still far from met.  

August 18
Neither storms nor supply challenges have stopped our response to Saturday’s horrific earthquake in southern Haiti, as doctors, surgeons, and cargo shipments are arriving in affected areas and emergency care capabilities are expanding, supported by the large network of Partners In Health, known in Haiti as Zanmi Lasante.

While travel to Haiti’s southern peninsula and rural areas near the earthquake’s epicenter was delayed early this week by Tropical Storm Grace, medical flights resumed Wednesday and 30 patients are expected to be airlifted to PIH’s University Hospital of Mirebalais (HUM), a 300-bed teaching hospital run in partnership with Haiti’s Ministry of Health. In addition, a team of 16 PIH staff plan to travel by car to assess the situation in Jeremie, a devastated coastal area in dire need of medical resources.

Partnerships are growing rapidly: One of the helicopters back in the air has been funded by the U.S. Bureau of Health Assistance, and Dr. Ralph Ternier, director of programs for Zanmi Lasante, has joined meetings of the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s branch for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Collaborations like these are vital because conditions for care remain challenging, with some roads washed out or inaccessible, and reports slow to come in from rural, isolated, or cut-off communities. 

Also vital is PIH’s four decades of work and experience in Haiti, ensuring smooth collaboration with partner aid organizations in areas including Les Cayes, which has been a focus of initial aid efforts.

PIH’s supply chain team is working around the clock to bring needed equipment to all affected areas. A flight left Miami on Tuesday with high-priority items such as sterile drapes and gauze, and a shipment of orthopedic drills and equipment will be sent later this week to PIH-supported St. Boniface General Hospital, which is preparing to receive significant numbers of patients from hard-hit areas near the epicenter. 

The supply chain team also is working to fill a cargo plane to depart this weekend and another one next week, with direct relief.

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August 17

Members of the PIH team arrived in Les Cayes, Haiti, the epicenter of Saturday’s earthquake, and surrounding areas on Monday. Dr. Prince Pierre Sonson, thoracic surgeon and medical director of PIH’s St. Therese Hospital in Hinche; and Dr. Emmanuel Syriaque, an orthopedic surgeon, both have arrived at PIH-supported St. Boniface Hospital and are providing emergency care.

The team is also assessing which patients will be transported to Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, or University Hospital of Mirebalais, and other facilities. As they determine who will go where and assess the most efficient way to transport supplies, many factors must be considered, including how to safely navigate roads amid threats of gang violence and compromised road conditions. 

Tropical Depression Grace swept over Haiti on Monday evening, causing heavy flooding and mudslide risks across the country. As the death and injury tolls from Saturday’s earthquake continue to rise, the severe weather is making it more difficult to find and rescue earthquake survivors, creating additional challenges for teams on the ground.

August 16

Clinicians, staff and support teams in Haiti, where Partners In Health (PIH) is known as Zanmi Lasante, are responding on numerous fronts to the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation on Saturday. 

With hundreds dead and thousands injured, and both counts rising, PIH is enacting emergency protocols to quickly help those affected. In the coming days, PIH expects to transport and care for trauma victims at its sites in Mirebalais, Saint-Marc, and Hinche, which are about 150 miles -- about eight hours by car -- east of Les Cayes, the epicenter of the earthquake. PIH clinical teams also are en route to Les Cayes and surrounding areas to provide support. 

The leadership team is working with Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and Population and  several non-government organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to respond to the acute health needs in the affected communities. In short, all of PIH’s 6,598 staff members in Haiti, including community health workers, nurses, doctors, drivers, and more, are focused on providing collaborative, lifesaving care. 

Much of the team, tragically, is familiar with responding to natural disasters, and all of PIH and Zanmi Lasante are drawing lessons from the response to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. However, teams are much better equipped this time around, with extensive staff training programs and major improvements such as Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, or University Hospital of Mirebalais. The 300-bed, internationally accredited teaching hospital was completed in 2013, and has six world-class operating rooms.

“They can do more, and faster, than back then, and will be counting on all of us for the pragmatic solidarity they deserve,” said Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH co-founder and chief strategist, in an Aug. 14 statement. “That will be, as usual, in the form of staff, stuff, space, and support, since we now have Haiti’s biggest and strongest health system, much of it mobile when needed.”

The Caribbean nation is simultaneously dealing with Tropical Depression Grace and potential cholera outbreaks from resulting floods, and potential fuel shortages, and navigating heightened political turmoil including the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse—all while managing rising cases of COVID-19.

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