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Doctors Without Borders forced to suspend Haiti medical care again due to gang violence

Miami Herald - 4/2/2022

For the second time in nearly 10 months, French medical charity Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontière is temporarily halting services at one of its emergency health centers in Haiti due to gang violence.

The charity decided Friday to temporarily suspend operations at its Drouillard facility in the sprawling Cité Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince after a series of violent incidents against people at the emergency center, the charity said in a statement.

“We condemn all forms of obstacles and violence against medical aid, our patients and members of our staff,” said Thierry Goffeau, MSF head of mission in Haiti. “It is a painful decision to make because here we receive injured victims of violence in need of urgent and vital care. With the interruption of activities, access will be drastically reduced while the needs are only increasing.”

A wave of gang violence this week filled every bed at the Drouillard center, so some people were forced to seek medical care elsewhere. Workers were overwhelmed with all the patients, many of them gunshot victims. On Thursday, as patients were being treated inside the center, unidentified people burned tires in front of its doors, sources familiar with the incident told the Miami Herald.

Health services in Port-au-Prince are becoming increasingly limited due to the gang violence. Kidnappings have led to patients, doctors and medical workers refusing to go to some centers out of fear of being the next victim. Not even the country’s public hospitals have been immune from the problems.

This week, a strike was finally lifted at the State University of Haiti where services had all but stopped for a month as the National Federation of Health Workers protested over poor pay and working conditions at the country’s public hospitals and medical facilities.

While its other sites in Haiti will remain operational, MSF said the Drouillard emergency center, which opened in 2011, will remain closed “until security conditions are guaranteed to allow impartial access to care and ensure respect for the neutrality of health facilities.”

In June, MSF was forced to temporarily suspend operations in the Martissant neighborhood on the southern outskirts of metropolitan Port-au-Prince after gang members targeted its emergency clinic and fired several bursts in its direction. No one died or was injured.

But two months later as inter-gang warfare worsened and continued to force the displacement of thousands from the area, the humanitarian medical organization — known for working in war and conflict zones around the globe — announced the shutdown of its Martissant emergency center.

The latest suspension of medical services comes on the heels of a wave of gang violence that continues to affect daily life in the capital, including the raping of women.

This is the second time this week that a charity operating in Haiti has announced suspension of services because of violence. On Tuesday, a Florida-based charity, Agape Flights, announced it was suspending a scheduled flight to Haiti after violent protesters in the southwestern city of Les Cayes tore apart and then burned one of its planes, an eight-seat Piper Navajo Chieftain, parked at the airport. The decision by the Venice-based charity was followed by charter airline operators temporarily halting local flight service the following day.

In response to the violence in Les Cayes, the head of the Haitian National Police Frantz Elbé transferred the area’s police director Jean Barzelais Bornelus, after only three weeks on the job, and named Port-de-Paix Police Divisional Commissioner Daniel Compère as his replacement. Compère, who previously headed the Northwest region of Haiti, was installed Thursday as new police chief for the earthquake-recovering South.

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