PAHO officials describe the situation as a “perfect storm”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne today sounded the alarm on an “impending humanitarian crisis” in Haiti, as The Bahamas’ southern neighbor faces a bleak health outlook with COVID-19.
To date, there have been at least 100 confirmed cases and 11 COVID-19-related deaths.
However, those numbers were expected to grow substantially as well as the death toll.
“We are especially worried about Haiti and I wish to sound the alarm of an impending humanitarian crisis,” Etienne said during a broadcasted PAHO press conference with stakeholders from around the region.
“Although there have been 100 cases and 11 deaths reported, one third are of local transmission and the probability of further spread is extremely high.
“The situation has been described as a perfect storm.
“There are already 17,000 Haitians, who have returned from the Dominican Republic, where there is community transmission.
“This number is expected to reach 55,000 in two to three weeks.”
She continued: “In addition, there is a real risk food insecurity will result in famine.
“Civil unrest… and precarious security may further complicate the situation.
“The health system in Haiti has limited capacity.”
She added: “There is real danger of a largescale outbreak followed by a humanitarian crisis in Haiti.”
Natural disasters and widespread civil unrest in Haiti has seen increased illegal migration attempts from the country to The Bahamas.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force has said it continues to implement measures to address the “threats and challenges of the influx of migrants from Haiti”.
Impoverished Haiti has been struck from disaster to disaster for decades, weakening its healthcare systems and the government’s ability to respond.
According to international reports, Haiti had an estimated 60 ventilators in-country for its 11 million population.
Testing levels remain low, as outlined by PAHO.
According to Etienne, around 600 people have been tested, notwithstanding the thousands of test kits donated to the country.
Etienne also suggested the political unrest and deep distrust of the government among many Haitians threatens to hinder the COVID-19 response.
For example, there have been threats to burn down field health clinics, she said.
Etienne also indicated there was insufficient personal protective equipment in-country, leading to increased concerns about the safety of healthcare workers on the frontlines.
“PAHO is working urgently with Haitian health authorities and other partners to strengthen the preparation, including organization of health services, laboratory testing and personal protective equipment, and to train healthcare workers as to care for COVID-19 patients,” she said.
“But I do believe that a much broader coalition to address a potential health crisis in this country is needed.
The government of Haiti has implemented measures to limit the spread of the virus.
Schools, universities, vocation centers and factories have closed until further notice.
Gatherings larger than 10 people have been banned.
A curfew remains in place from 8pm and 5am.
However, Etienne said it remains extremely challenging to institute social distancing measures in Haiti and there continues to be a lack of awareness among the community of the threat posed by the virus.
She said most Haitian do not have access to proper sanitation and many live in crowded dwellings and households where quarantine and isolation is “nearly impossible”.
According to PAHO officials, most countries in this sub-region remain in the “earlier stages of their outbreaks”.
Etienne underscored that small-island states have implemented strict public health measures, including air travel restrictions, which she said continues to have a positive impact in slowing the spread within borders.
As of yesterday, The Bahamas had 84 cases, the majority of which were the result of community spread.
There have been 11 COVID-19-related deaths in The Bahamas.
Twenty-five people have recovered.
A total of 1,446 people had been tested as of Monday.