The view from Haiti: A personal account

Haiti was shaken yet again Wednesday, January 20, by a 5.9-magnitude aftershock that lasted approximately 7 seconds, cutting no break for the hundreds of thousands of already-devastated Haitians and the aid workers there to help them. There have been more than 40 aftershocks since the shattering quake on January 12. This latest shock, certainly the largest, centered about 35 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince and about 6 miles below the surface, according to the US Geological Survey.

Meanwhile, rescue operations continue at full speed — medical personnel, military forces, and other aid workers and peacekeepers have arrived in droves in Haiti over the past week. There has been bottleneck at the airport in terms of receiving and distributing goods, due mainly to capacity, security, and communications issues. The provision of surgical services, food, water, shelter, and medical supplies has been mobilized as quickly as possible; nothing seems efficient enough, though, considering the sheer size and immediacy of the demand.

Dr. Evan Lyon, a Partners In Health clinician currently in Haiti, executive editor of Health and Human Rights: An International Journal, and co-founder of the OpenForum blog, shares his experiences on the ground in Haiti. His communications have been published on the Partners In Health website, and we share his latest update below.

Click here to read more of Dr. Lyon’s experience in Haiti.

Click here to hear the January 16 “Radio Rounds” interview with Dr. Lyon.

[Editor’s Note: The following note from Dr. Lyon is reposted from the Partners In Health website.]


Dr. Evan Lyon has been on the ground working at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince since Saturday [January 16]. He’s working with a partnership between PIH and the Haitian Ministry of Health to coordinate restoring services at the hospital.

For many years, PIH’s sister organization Zanmi Lasante (“Partners In Health” in Haitian Creole) has been one of the largest and most attractive training sites for graduating medical students. The majority of our doctors and nurses, pharmacists, and lab technicians, have trained at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, Hôpital de l’Université d’état d’Haiti (HUEH). Until less than a decade ago, all doctors trained in Haiti graduated from the national medical school and received training at the general hospital. Zanmi Lasante has been honored to host many of the top graduates of the national university in their first year out of medical training for a year of social service. Zanmi Lasante’s finest medical staff are among these graduates, who are now leading Partners in Health’s efforts to respond to the disaster.

The general hospital sustained massive damage; at least 50 percent of the campus cannot be used. Many buildings are destroyed. All are cracked. Only some are safe to work in. The adjacent nursing school was completely destroyed–we are working in its in the dusty shadow, where the bodies of many, many second year nursing students remain trapped in the rubble. It will be weeks or months until the rubble is cleared. The smell of death is everywhere. Many of the dead are our sisters and brothers in health, who had worked alongside us to relieve suffering.

Today we worked to get the university hospital on its feet again.  Dr. Lassegue, the hospital’s director, and his staff are leading efforts to care for the injured.  Partners In Health is working closely with the hospital to provide care and to help organize relief efforts from international aid agencies from around the world.  Surgeons had been operating with daylight and flashlights but electricity is now restored. Seven operating rooms are now performing surgeries.  An estimated 1000 patients have already been assessed and are awaiting surgery on the campus. People are lying on mats on the ground, in shade where it can be found, under sheets strung from the trees.

Inpatient wards are coming together. We hope to increase to ten operating rooms in the next 48 hours, with 24-hour service now that the electricity has been restored. The hospital must stand again.

As I left the hospital compound this evening, I saw the lights of a large front-end loader working near the morgue. Three dump trucks were at the ready. Where thousands upon thousands of bodies had lain just days ago, only 40-50 bodies remained. Swollen, alone, pushed to the side of the pavement slippery with blood and body fluids.

As I walked past the morgue and the largest pile of bodies, I noticed that one was wearing a Zanmi Lasante t-shirt. I cannot begin to understand why this small detail made a scene of unspeakable sadness even sadder.

– Evan Lyon