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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Race against time for Haiti medics
A UN worker treats a woman injured in the Haiti floods
A UN worker treats a woman injured in the Haiti floods
The citizens of Haiti are picking up the pieces after the island was hit by tropical storm Jeanne, whose floods have claimed nearly 700 lives.

BBC News Online looks at what the effects of the disaster on the health of the population are likely to be.

International health organisations are battling to help the people of Haiti by rebuilding their devastated health system.

Donatella Massai, the Brussels-based operations manager for Medicines sans Frontiers, told BBC News Online they were in a "race against time" to restore healthcare systems to Gonaives in north-west Haiti, which was the worst-hit by rising floodwaters

In the beginning, more people may die because they cannot get help, whatever they are suffering from
Donatella Massai, Medicins sans Frontieres
"Many parts of the city are still under water", she said. "And all the health centres are either destroyed by the weather, or at least out of service."

She said all health equipment in the city, ranging from X-ray machines to beds, had been destroyed."

The situation means that even people with treatable illness such as diarrhoea or pneumonia may die because they cannot obtain medical care.

People with long-term conditions, such as diabetes, could also be at risk if they cannot access medication they need.


Ms Massai said water-borne diseases such as typhoid and diarrhoea may spread. Cholera could also be a problem, but the disease is not endemic on the island.

She added: "But in the beginning, more people may die because they cannot get help, whatever they are suffering from.

"It is a race against time to get as much in place as possible."

MSF has had a small team in Haiti since floods hit the south east of the island in April this year.

But more staff, including a psychologist, who will treat people affected by post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing loved ones die, and a water and sanitation health expert, will fly out over the next few days.

Ms Massai said: "Speaking to the health workers, we find all of them have lost at least one family member."

"The disaster has been devastating for those who have lived through it.

She added: "There is already a problem with malnutrition in Haiti, so food and drink might be a problem."

But the first few days after the disaster have been spent dealing with people injured while trying to escape the flood.

Ms Massai said many people had climbed onto roofs and up trees to escape the rising water, then fallen or hurt themselves as they came down.

She added health teams were likely to be there for some time.

"We are still in the south-east, four months later, and they are still finding bodies there. There will be many bodies in the water in Gonaives too."

Haiti floods spark disease fears
22 Sep 04  |  Americas
In Pictures: Haiti floods
22 Sep 04  |  In Pictures
Tackling Haiti's chronic problems
20 Jul 04  |  Americas

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