Rescue, relief efforts continue in Haiti, 200,000 people estimated to have perished in quake

Rescue efforts continue in Haiti after a major earthquake hit the country last week, CNN reports (1/18). While teams still search for survivors under the rubble, the priority is shifting to relief for those who survived the quake, according to Nicholas Reader, spokesperson for the U.N. Offices for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, TIME reports (Newton-Small, 1/18).

According to USA Today, the U.S. military on Monday was able to "dramatically" increase "the amount of troops and aid coming into Haiti … raising hopes that the rapid increase in help and people would be able to meet the most pressing needs …" (Michaels et al., 1/18).

Access to clean water is a significant issue, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The newly homeless have wandered the streets in the scorching heat since then, their throats parched. The injured have been unable to safely cleanse cuts and wounds of dust and dirt, risking infection," the newspaper writes (Esterl/McKay, 1/16).

Food distribution efforts are improving as the U.N. World Food Program said Monday it is distributing 220 tons of ready-to-eat meals to 95,000 earthquake survivors, 67,000 more people than the agency was able to feed on Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reports. "The agency plans to hand out 10 million meals, plus rice and high-energy biscuits, during the next week, and estimates that it will need to provide 100 million meals during the next 30 days" (Mozingo/Ellingwood, 1/19). U.N. food rations also reached "Challe, a camp for 10,000 displaced Haitian people, for the first time as relief supplies began to trickle in to those in need," Agence France-Presse writes (Jourdain, 1/18).

The number of people estimated to have died in the quake is approximately 200,000, according to a casualty report from the European Commission, which cites numbers from the Haitian government. It also estimates that about 70,000 bodies have been recovered and put into mass graves, the Associated Press/Boston Globe reports. "European Commission analysts estimate 250,000 people were injured and 1.5 million were made homeless. Masses are living under plastic sheets in makeshift camps and in dust-covered automobiles, or had taken to the road seeking out relatives in the safer countryside," the news service writes (de Montesquiou/Melia, 1/19).

Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, of the U.S. Southern Command, said a death toll estimate of 200,000 is a "reasonable assumption," according to the BBC, adding that it is "too early to know" the full extent of loss of life (1/18). 

Escalating violence could also hinder aid efforts, Keen said, the AP/Fox News writes. "We've had incidents of violence that impede our ability to support the government of Haiti and answer the challenges that this country faces," he said (1/18).

"Thousands more Marines and airborne troops joined the struggle to provide desperate earthquake survivors with food and water on Monday, while Haitian officials sought to move people to the provinces to relieve pressure on the relief effort," according to the Los Angeles Times. "Troops are airlifting emergency supplies and the injured, providing logistical support, managing the Port-au-Prince airport and standing by to help provide security amid scattered reports of looting and gunfire in the capital," the newspaper writes (1/19).

During a visit to Haiti on Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "proposed that the United States help establish a joint coordinating unit to help the Haitian government in its humongous effort to provide aid to tens of thousands of earthquake victims," the AP/Miami Herald reports. Clinton did not offer new aid, but said the U.S. could help staff the unit (Charles, 1/16). In a Fox News interview, Clinton talked about the different ways the U.S. is trying to help (Van Susteren, 1/19). Keen and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah were interviewed on all five U.S. Sunday shows, Politico reports. Shah accompanied Clinton for one day on her visit to Haiti (Bresnahan, 1/20).

According to the AP/CBS News, "Former President Bill Clinton, [the U.N. special envoy to Haiti] and his daughter Chelsea arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Monday afternoon on a mission to distribute aid …" (1/18). A Fox News Sunday transcript of an interview with Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush about the challenges in Haiti and their efforts to raise money for Haiti relief is available here (1/17). U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-FL, "became the first member of Congress to reach Haiti" after driving across from the Dominican Republic on Sunday, the Sun Sentinal's "Broward Politics" blog reports (Man, 1/18). "Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) arrived in Haiti Monday to volunteer his medical skills for Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization," Roll Call writes (1/18).

News Outlets Examine Health, Development Issues Associated With Earthquake

"With uncounted thousands dead and many thousands more injured, the stricken city of Port-au-Prince is in a vast medical crisis," according to a New York Times article, which explores the medical situation in the earthquake's aftermath. "Port-au-Prince is an endless refugee camp, with tens of thousands sleeping in the open, raising the threat of cholera. Other diarrheal diseases can spread quickly; colds that turn into pneumonia can kill children" (McNeil, 1/15).

Reuters reports: "An earthquake killing up to 200,000 people would have been bad enough anywhere, but in Haiti, where AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are rampant, children are malnourished and hygiene is already a challenge, it may create one of the worst medical disasters ever. Medical teams pouring in to set up mobile hospitals say they are already overwhelmed by the casualties and fear the worst is yet to come as infection and disease take hold" (Fox, 1/18).

On Saturday Jennifer Furin of Harvard Medical School noted that almost a third of the patients at a "makeshift hospital on a United Nations compound near Port-au-Prince's airport" would die without surgery, CNN reports. "They will die of infections, they'll die of dead tissue, they'll die of malnutrition and metabolic derangements," Furin said (Cohen, 1/17). USA Today writes that many in Haiti remain "vulnerable to injury and death … only in new ways." According to the newspaper, "limited medical supplies, poor travel conditions that limit delivery of what medical supplies do exist, contaminated drinking water and a broken sanitation system probably will delay healing of earthquake-inflicted wounds and magnify any pre-existing conditions" (Marcus, 1/18).

MSNBC notes that dead bodies aren't adding to potential health problems. "Rescuers and public health officials shouldn't spend much time worrying about the health risk of the corpses piling up on the city's streets, [Curtis Cummings, an associate professor in Drexel University's School of Public Health] added. Contrary to common belief, dead bodies don't spread disease, especially when they've likely died of trauma and not infection" (Aleccia, 1/15).

The BBC focused on the health impact among children. "Under-18s make up almost half of Haiti's 10-million population and aid agencies are warning they are at great risk from ongoing physical and psychological trauma," according to the news service. The article includes information from UNICEF, Save the Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Wilkinson, 1/15).

The Washington Post looks at how a shortage of clean water after the earthquake "threatens survivors with potentially fatal dehydration and massive outbreaks of water-borne diseases." According to the newspaper, a lack of clean water "can trigger outbreaks of dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever and other illnesses" (Stein, 1/16). The Toronto Sun also examines the water issue. "Water-borne diseases following Tuesday's earthquake could boost the death toll by another 10 to 20% over the disaster's initial fatalities, says Dr. Gerald Evans, president of the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada. 'There's just a litany of potential infectious, contagious stuff that's going to affect an area like that'" (Spencer, 1/15).

In related news, the Washington Post examines how this natural disaster could help the country's future development. "Development efforts have failed there, decade after decade … But the leveled capital, Port-au-Prince, must be rebuilt, promising one of the largest economic development efforts ever undertaken in the hemisphere - an effort 'measured in months and even years,' President Obama said Saturday in an appeal for donations alongside former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And those who will help oversee it are thinking hard about how to use that money and attention to change the country forever" (MacGillis, 1/17). Reuters reports on the implications of President Barack Obama's response to the situation in Haiti. "Already dealing with two wars and a foreign policy agenda brimming with challenges, Obama faces a double-edged sword in grappling with the Haiti earthquake and its long-term challenges of rebuilding a country already crippled by poverty. He risks criticism if relief efforts falter, while at the same time he could draw fire if he is perceived as neglecting U.S. domestic priorities in an election year" (Wroughton, 1/17).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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