Medical charities working round the clock to treat Haiti's injured

Médecins sans Frontières cargo plane carrying inflatable hospital blocked from landing at Port-au-Prince airport

A medical group today said one of its planes was turned away from Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, despite guarantees given by the UN and the US defence department.

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) received no explanation as to why the cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing yesterday and re-routed to Samana, in the Dominican Republic.

All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay. A second MSF plane is on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10am local time (3pm GMT) with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital.

If this plane is also rerouted the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life-saving treatment, the group said.

"Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying life-saving equipment and medical personnel," a spokesperson said.

The inflatable hospital includes two operating theatres, an intensive care unit, 100-bed capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilising material.

MSF teams are working around the clock in five hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only two operating threatres are fully functional, while a third has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded.

MSF doctors say they have never seen so many serious injuries as those sustained by victims of Haiti's earthquake.

Surgical units set up by Médecins sans Frontières in Port-au-Prince have been working around the clock to treat large numbers of patients. The most serious cases have involved caesarian sections and amputations.

The group has relocated to Chocsal hospital in the Cité Soleil district after its original facilities at Martissant were badly damaged. The new operating theatre has been working non-stop since early on Friday.

In Trinite, MSF teams are treating people under canvas in the grounds of a clinic damaged by the earthquake, which is believed to have killed between 100,000 and 200,000 people.

In Carrefour, a badly hit district, MSF's two operating theatres have been besieged by patients.

"When people found out that we were starting medical activities in Carrefour, they began crowding round the entrance," said Hans van Dillen, one of MSF's main co-ordinators in Port-au-Prince. "Patients are being brought in wheelbarrows and carried on people's backs."

MSF said it was struggling to find more buildings it could use but efforts were continuing to get more medical staff and supplies into the country. The major obstacle remains the bottleneck at the airport, which has turned away a number of vital cargo flights.

"Lack of authorisation to land at the airport has already caused a 24-hour delay to the planned arrival of MSF's much needed inflatable hospital," the group said.

Like the UN and other relief agencies, MSF had workers who were caught up in the earthquake. It is still trying to confirm the whereabouts of others and is increasingly concerned about their welfare.

MSF teams say the lack of food and water is contributing to tension in the city. There has been little sign of significant aid distribution and there are increasing reports of looting, although not yet accompanied by violence.


Mark Tran

The GuardianTramp

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