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SOS from Haitian hospitals

The morning after the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, the halls of Hopital Albert Schweitzer in the Artibonite Valley, some 40 miles north of the capital of Port-Au-Prince, were filled with new patients, "traumatic injuries, mostly." All available gurneys and benches were occupied, and, "patients are triaged and staged along the corridor to the operating suite and lab/radiology."

That report was emailed to Stanford surgeon Ralph Greco, MD, who started volunteering at the rural hospital in the 1970s, as a Yale surgical resident. Greco took Stanford Hospital residents back to Haiti for more than 20 years, and he stays in touch with friends there. The email to him from the Schweitzer Hospital reported that it has enough doctors and nurses on hand, plus a full stock of medications and continuing power and supplies of water. Unfortunately, conditions are much worse at other medical sites in the impoverished nation.

In the hillside district of Petionville, on the outskirts of the capital, a hospital was reported to have collapsed. And in the Central Plateau, aftershocks were overwhelming local medical staff. Louise Ivers, clinical director of Partners in Health in Haiti, sent an urgent email, appealing for assistance. "Port-Au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS, SOS...Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us."

Ophelia Dahl, PIH executive director, echoed that message. "The earthquake has destroyed much of the already fragile and overburdened infrastructure in the most densely populated part of the country," she wrote in an email that reached Greco. "A massive and immediate international response is needed to provide food, water, shelter, and medical supplies for tens of thousands of people."

Noting that conditions in Port-Au-Prince are a "nightmare," Greco predicted that there could be hundreds of thousands of deaths. "It's a city of three to four million people, and they're living in shacks, living on nothing. It's probably one of the poorest countries in the world, and there is so much need."

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