by: Lou Angeli
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Thursday January 21, 2010) -- As of late Wednesday, International USAR teams have rescued 121 people from collapsed buildings in Haiti since the January 12 earthquake, according to Carlos Castillo, a spokesperson for US-based USAR teams.
The most recent rescue was that of a 5-year-old boy, who flashed a huge smile and flung his hands upward in victory, as a US-Hungarian rescue team pulled him from the rubble.
Currently, 43 international USAR teams, comprised of 1,739 rescue workers, with 161 dogs, are working in Haiti. 6 of those teams are from the United States – with 511 rescue workers from Fairfax County, Los Angeles County, Miami-=Broward, Miami-Dade, Virginia Beach, and New York. In addition, another 1000 or so EMT’s and firefighters from North America have self deployed,
working mainly in the villages surrounding Port-Au-Prince. In addition, there are 20 U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels as well as 51 helicopters deployed.
As of January 20, more than 5,000 patients have been treated by Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) from the Department of Health and Human Services. Despite DMAT efforts, officials estimate that approximately 2,000 injured Haitian injured are succumbing each day to infection and dehydration.
Most of the deaths have taken place in hospitals which have been staffed with volunteer physicians, nurses, paramedics and EMT’s from around the world. Why? These well-trained, highly motivated medical professionals are being denied medicine and equipment that is crucial to providing definitive health care.
“We’re working with a Civil War mentality.” said one Trauma doc from San Francisco. “With no meds or surgical equipment, we’re amputating broken limbs with hacksaws and without anesthetics, in order to keep infection from spreading so the patient will live.”
Many of the medical professionals who are working these “street hospitals” blame DMAT for hoarding medicine and equipment, which is simply being stockpiled at the Port-Au-Prince Airport.
“DMAT can’t meet the level of need here in Port-Au-Prince, They don’t have the numbers” one US nurse complained. “If lives are going to be saved, they (DMAT) need to come off those supplies and distribute them stat!”
Officials estimate that nearly 350,000 Haitians are walking wounded, many with serious injuries. They wait in makeshift EMS staging areas, laying on the ground in the scorching sun, hoping to be seen by DMAT or flown to the single operating room aboard the USS Vinson. For many, help doesn’t arrive in time – their dead bodies moved onto a pile to make room for other injured.
In the meantime, many drugs, especially antibiotics and pain meds, are being slipped into the country by newly arriving medical groups, which are not affiliated with DMAT. In my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware today, a plea went out to radio listeners asking them to check their medicine cabinets and dresser drawers for any antibiotics or pain medications which can be spared to support the effort of a local team of physicians and medical volunteers.
Denying life-saving medicine and supplies to other medical professionals, simply because they’re not wearing a DMAT patch, is absurd. Such thinking is based solely on the belief that unaffiliated volunteers, like the group from Delaware, should be banned from the disaster ground. But this isn’t a FEMA operation – it is a large scale disaster that is international in scope. The term SCUV* is not a four letter word in Haiti – here it is as important as the Star of Life.
*SCUV – Spontaneous Convergent Unaffiliated Volunteer -- a term which arose from the ashes of 9/11, referring to those who willingly volunteered to serve during the crucial first 72 hours, when no "official" agency was set up to provide support to the rescue effort.