Sunday, March 28, 2010



PORT-AU-PRINCE – Erod holds onto the bars of his cot and smiles, oblivious to his own amazing survival story 10 weeks after being left to die in a mound of stinking garbage following Haiti's earthquake.

Found in a chronically malnourished state, the 18-month-old boy was taken to a hospital in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil where Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) returned to run things after the January 12 quake.

Weeks of intensive care meant the determined 18-month old clung to life against the odds in the nation with the highest infant mortality rate in the western hemisphere.

"At the moment, we are looking for a place for him so he can leave the hospital but we don't know where," Emmanuel Massart, a 28-year-old nurse from Belgium, told AFP. "We call him Erod but I don't know who chose this name."

In a staggeringly poor country where an astonishing 40 percent of the population is under 14 and almost one in 10 children die before they are five, the future of the little survivor is very uncertain.

Like Erod, who has half a finger missing on his right hand and a blotchy hairless scalp due to the months of starvation that nearly killed him, many babies are abandoned by families who can't cope with an extra mouth to feed.

Erod grasped the nurse's thumb and then uncurled it with his tiny hand, smiling with bright eyes that suddenly let loose a stream of tears the moment he was placed back in his cot, alone.

Leaving soon for a public creche to hopefully be adopted, Erod is not the main concern of doctor Manuel Dewez, whose ward is full of suspected cases of meningitis, malaria and gastro-entiritis.
"Here is a little baby," Dewez told AFP, his understatement only clear when he pulled back the curtain. A tiny, tiny face peered out from a bundle of swaddling cloths, eyes blinking, the hint of a smile.

This was the newest addition to the ward, Bechina, a boy born two or three months prematurely and weighing an astonishing one kilogram (2.2 pounds).

Most suspected cases of meningitis are negative and although malaria is becoming more prevalent as the rains come, there is no epidemic yet.

Like most field hospitals in the developing world, one of the biggest killers is dehydration due to gastro-enteritis.

"It's a silly thing because it is very easy to treat," said Dewez. "We haven't had many deaths. In four weeks we've only had three or four deaths, which is pretty low actually.

"What we need are more sophisticated diagnostic tools like a better laboratory for different tests. We need more health professionals to fill the gaps for the shifts."

The challenges facing field coordinator Karel Janssens are enormous, but he said the fact MSF had worked in the notoriously violent slum from 2005 to 2007 meant they were in a great position to help after the quake.

"The people know us very well. The population of Cite Soleil know us very well," Janssens told AFP.

The clinic, known as CHOSCAL, treated patients with serious trauma injuries in the immediate aftermath of the quake but has now returned to its "normal" function as a general hospital.
Due to squalid living conditions in the camps, they are seeing a lot of pediatric cases and there are increasing signs that the usual pre-quake violence that has blighted Cite Soleil for decades is in full swing again.

Outside the operating theater, next to tents protected from the roasting sun by black over-sheets, a young man with a gunshot wound was placed on the ground on an orange stretcher.
Motionless apart from the rise and fall of his chest, his eyes suddenly opened as he writhed in agony clasping his side before being taken in for theater.

"Here we are at the level of one gunshot wound a day," explained Janssens. "We see about 40 cases of violence coming to the hospital on a weekly basis. We see a lot of stoning injuries, people attacked with machetes and such like."

Nothing is reported to police as MSF's ability to operate safely in such an environment depends on the perception that they are completely independent.

The hospital was clearly pushed to its limits. Lines of walking-wounded sat patiently on benches. A woman lay on the ground, supported by a friend, about to go into labor.

Janssens was concerned by the slow pace of recovery and said frustration in Cite Soleil was building as people heard about billions of aid dollars but saw little being done.

"If you drive around Cite Soleil you still see a lot of camps where people are living in !@#$ conditions," he said, putting it in a nutshell.

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