PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti - January 19 - With violent attacks intensifying and spreading to many parts of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called on all armed groups in the city to respect the safety of civilians and allow those wounded during clashes to have immediate access to emergency medical care. The organization also called for the safety of national and international aid workers to be respected.
In the last several weeks, MSF medical and surgical teams have seen an alarming increase of people needing treatment for violence-related injuries, including a growing number of gunshot and knifing victims. In December 2005, MSF treated more than 220 gunshot victims at two facilities - St. Joseph's trauma center in the Turgeau neighborhood and Choscal hospital in Cité Soleil. This included 26 gunshot victims treated at Choscal hospital on December 26-27, and was a dramatic increase from the 147 gunshot victims treated at both facilities in November 2005. Nearly 50 percent of all MSF patients treated for violence-related injuries are women, children, or elderly.
"It is unacceptable that so many civilians are victims of this latest wave of violence," said Ali Besnaci, the head of mission for the MSF trauma center at St. Joseph's Hospital in the city's center. "We are receiving patients from St. Martin, Centre Ville, Martissant, Carrefour and other areas of Port-au-Prince. Recently, we treated a 15-month old infant and a 77-year old man for gunshot wounds."
Since December 2004, medical and surgical teams at St. Joseph's have treated nearly 2,500 people for violence-related injuries, including more than 1,500 gunshot victims and 500 knifing victims. MSF re-opened Choscal Hospital and the Chapi Health Center in the heart of Cité Soleil in August 2005, and staff performed nearly 12,000 medical consultations and 800 emergency interventions in the first three months. Since January 1, 2006, MSF has treated 47 gunshot victims in Cité Soleil.
According to patients, people have been both deliberately and unintentionally shot by all of the armed groups in the city.
"Various groups, including Minustah, refer to civilian casualties as 'collateral damage,'" said Loris De Filippi, the head of mission for MSF's programs in Cité Soleil. "But it is inexcusable for so many lives to be torn apart every day in the crossfire."
The situation in Cité Soleil, an epicenter of the widespread politically motivated and criminal violence, is especially grave for those in need of emergency medical care.
"Our ability to work in Cité Soleil is precarious — we never know how much access we will have from one week to the next," said De Filippi. "The safety of humanitarian aid workers must also be respected. If we cannot do our work, a quarter of a million people — or the population of a small American or European city — would have few health care options."
Appalled by a peak of violence in June and July 2005, MSF made a similar call on the city's armed groups to respect the safety of civilians and guarantee unhindered access to emergency care.
"Today's unbearable situation resembles what Haitians faced this past summer and we're worried it is only going to get worse," said Besnaci. "People are living in constant fear, and we know that many injured are either afraid or prevented from getting the treatment they need. This is simply unacceptable."
MSF has been working in Haiti since 1991. In addition to emergency trauma care in Port-au-Prince, MSF provides primary health care services to people in the capital's Decayette neighborhood.