Feature Disaster Medicine

Don’t ignore home grown medical systems

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c3187 (Published 17 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3187

This article has corrections. Please see:

  1. Shahram Aarabi, resident in surgery1,
  2. Charles Jason Smithers, assistant in surgery2,
  3. Joia Mukharjee, medical director 3
  1. 1University of Washington, Washington DC, USA
  2. 2Children’s Hospital Boston, USA
  3. 3Partners in Health, Boston, USA
  1. saarabi{at}hsph.harvard.edu

    Almost three weeks after the January earthquake in Haiti, two of us went to Port au Prince to take part in the medical relief efforts. We were stationed at the University Hospital with other volunteers from Partners in Health and the International Medical Corps. The conditions at the hospital were grim, with about 400 patients housed in tents on the grounds of the largely destroyed facility.

    University Hospital is the only academic referral centre in the country, is the site of the only public medical and nursing schools, and is known by locals as the place to go for emergency medical care. It wasn’t a surprise, then, that the stream of patients coming through University Hospital remained steady in the weeks after the earthquake. Most of the patients we saw were no longer considered “earthquake victims,” but they were certainly victims of a natural event that had struck a mortal blow to their already dysfunctional medical system. We didn’t treat traumatic injuries or fractures but rather wound infections, tetanus, bowel perforations associated with typhoid infection, and ruptured ectopic pregnancies.

    Despite the impressive number of well equipped temporary field hospitals that were functioning in the vicinity of Port au Prince, University Hospital remained severely understaffed. University Hospital was largely neglected …

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