On 12th January 2010, Haiti was struck by an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. It took a particularly heavy toll on the population. More than 230,000 people lost their lives and 300,000 were injured.
Medical facilities in the disaster-affected region were almost entirely destroyed. At that time, there were only 13 physiotherapists in Haiti – most were working abroad. The country has also had to deal with a lack of rehabilitation specialists.
"Improvised camps sprang up all over the place. Hundreds of survivors slept in hospital car parks. Most health facilities had collapsed," explains Sylvia Sommella, HI's director in Haiti.
In 2010, Sylvia arrived in Port-au-Prince a few days after the earthquake. "People were still looking for survivors trapped in the rubble. Many homes had imploded. In some places, the dust stirred up by the collapsed houses was still floating in the air. It was an apocalyptic scene."
Rapid deployment of emergency assistance
HI intervened directly after the disaster. It then strengthened its logistics platform, already in operation for several years, and a few days after the earthquake, the first physiotherapists and tonnes of humanitarian equipment were already arriving in the field.
In February, a few weeks after the disaster, HI supplied the first emergency prostheses in makeshift camps. In March, we started working in a rehabilitation centre. At the height of the response, more than 600 employees were working in the field supplying aid to survivors. More than 90,000 people received rehabilitation care and more than 1,400 people were fitted with an orthosis or prosthesis. More than 25,000 people were provided with psychosocial support.
In 2012, HI launched a training program for orthopaedic and physical rehabilitation technicians, in cooperation with USAID and Don Bosco University in El Salvador. This programme, which runs until 2016, has trained 86 new experts currently working in Haiti.
HI is now focusing on ongoing training, with the goal of further developing the knowledge of local rehabilitation specialists.
Marie Dorcasse Laguerre is in charge of this project for HI: “We provide support to students and professionals to do online training. After each training module, practical field sessions are organised with a physiotherapist who acts as a tutor to improve their technical skills. If there is an earthquake in two to five years, professionals will be available in Haiti to deal with the emergency."
HI also works with professional organisations of physiotherapists and orthopaedic and rehabilitation technicians, as well as with the National Network for the Inclusion of People with Disabilities (RANIPH). Three hospitals receive support to improve the quality and build the capacity of their rehabilitation services: St Michel de Jacmel Hospital, the Hospital of the State University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince and the Hospital of the Baptist Convention of Haiti in Cap Haïtien.
Haiti today: HI's other projects
HI also provides support to vulnerable and isolated communities in the north of the country to help them prepare for and protect themselves in the event of new natural disasters. The organisation also helps some 450 people with disabilities access employment or business activities.
HI also intends to fight against the high number of road accidents. HI teams raise awareness of local people and visit schools to explain road hazards to children. Drivers of public transportation can also take road safety courses.
Frequent natural disasters
Frequent hurricanes and earthquakes increase vulnerability and damage already fragile infrastructure. Cholera epidemics have weakened the population, although no new cases have been reported recently.
The ongoing social and political crisis in Haiti has had a serious impact on local communities, especially people with disabilities, and reduced access to essential items, health care, education, etc. People struggle to find food and 35% of the population (3.67 million people) urgently need food assistance.
In September and October 2019, fuel shortages and insecurity limited the capacity of humanitarian organisations to assist thousands of Haitians. Haitian public services have also considerably reduced their activities. Since November 2019, the situation has stabilised, and humanitarian and development organisations have gradually resumed their work.
People with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable and most likely to be discriminated against, are increasingly impacted by the crisis.
Since the unrest began, they are disproportionately exposed to risks, such as physical violence and crime. Barricades, demonstrations etc. restrict movement and access to essential and social services like food, drinking water and health. HI must be able to continue providing support to those most in need.