As those of you who follow the news have heard, the President of Haiti, Jovenal Moise was assassinated during the night of July 7, the repercussions of which are still unfolding. The following is an update that CFHAS received from the Hospital CEO:
The country was in gridlock before the assassination and this will only make things worse. The airport and all businesses were closed for several days. The airport is now open and businesses are being encouraged to open.
This may serve as a trigger for needed international intervention
The hospital is still pretty much running as normal.
Because it happened mid-week, most staff that travel to/from Port au Prince were at the hospital
The hospital has an almost full tank of fuel and recently received a large medication shipment from Europe
We are counting our blessing again for the oxygen generators that were recently installed and for the solar panels
All travel to PAP and been halted and the staff will implement a rationing plan until the affect on the supply chain is better understood
As has been done over the past 65 years the staff will continue to do their best to keep the facilities open and fully operational to serve the many people who rely on the hospital for their medical care.
Please keep the Hospital, its staff, Haiti and its people in your thoughts and prayers over the coming days as they and the country face the challenges of this latest upheaval in its history.
Interview with HAS CEO of Hopital Albert Schweitzer appearing in the Pittsburgh Business Times
Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti deals with country's turmoil, Covid-19 pandemic
Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti, a hospital and health center serving rural Haiti and supported by a team in Pittsburgh with its roots in Pittsburgh that began 65 years ago, has had to go through a lot over the last two years. It’s likely to go through even more with the Caribbean nation in turmoil after Wednesday’s assassination of its president.
HAS has seen success pulling itself out of a financial crisis since the leadership of CEO Jean Marc de Matteis in the past two years. It has had to contend with the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the country hard, as well as an unstable political and security situation in Haiti that has led to further turmoil and suffering for the 12 million residents of the island nation.
“The mood here is one of complete and utter shock,” said de Matteis on Wednesday afternoon from Haiti. “The streets are completely empty. It’s eerily quiet and nobody has had a chance to process what’s happened.”
The 131-bed hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti, employs about 500 people in Haiti, all but a handful Haitian, and serves the Artibonite Valley of Haiti. A member of the Mellon family in Pittsburgh began the hospital in the tradition of the great humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and the connections between Pittsburgh and Haiti remain deep. There’s a development staff in Pittsburgh, it is a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh, and people in the region continue to support it. De Matteis took over in 2019 and quickly moved to shore up the sagging donations and the financial condition that had seen the fate of the hospital and its services in doubt.
The security situation in Haiti, often tense and fraught, had been escalating over the past year. De Matteis said gang activity had skyrocketed in the last year, with large parts of Port Au Prince rocked by gang gun battles.
“For us at the hospital who depend on Port Au Prince for all our medicines and supplies and fuel, it’s been particularly devastating to get any kind of basic supplies out there, and that’s before the events of this morning,” he said.
De Matteis, who said he heard about the assassination from a phone call around 5 a.m., had been in crisis management meetings all morning. He’s laser focused on the basics.
“Right now, we have just two priorities: No. 1 is the health and safety of our 500 staff members and number two is to keep our facilities open to serve our patients,” de Matteis said. “That’s it. There’s nothing else that we’re focusing on but those.”
It was challenging enough even before Wednesday: Haiti about a month and a half ago was hit by another wave of Covid-19, fueled by variants. It’s particularly devastating in Haiti, where no vaccines have yet arrived, the only country in the Western Hemisphere without vaccines. There have been at least 18,592 confirmed cases and 857 deaths, but the toll is likely much higher because of difficulties in getting and processing tests, according to a report this month by The New Humanitarian. HAS has a large Covid care center that has seen increases in cases in recent weeks, although it’s not as high at the moment as other parts of the country.
“All of this in the backdrop of massive political insecurity,” de Matteis said. "I think I can say that HAS has seen a lot of things, operating in Haiti for 65 years. But the convergence of all of these events might be unprecedented.”
The unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic has cast a shadow on what has been a strong story of recovery for HAS. Two years ago, the hospital and the vital mission it carries in rural Haiti was threatened by years of declining donations and funding. Under de Matteis’ leadership, HAS has been able to get on more solid ground. It reduced expenses, found alternative sources for some programs and had to cut staff, both in Haiti and here in Pittsburgh. But de Matteis said it hasn’t had to cut service to the population that it serves, people who often don’t have any other places to go for medical care.
One longstanding and large challenge for HAS had been transporting oxygen to the hospital campus from Port Au Prince. The vital supply of oxygen — which has become even more important during the pandemic for the treatment of people with Covid-19 — had often been disrupted when the roads the trucks would take would be blocked by gang violence.
“That was our reality preCovid,” de Matteis said.
But thanks to a U.S. Agency for International Development grant about 10 months ago, HAS was able to get an oxygen generator. That makes HAS self-sufficient when it comes to oxygen, not only being able to generate enough oxygen on site for its own uses, but being able to supply other hospitals in the area.
Fuel had to travel the same uncertain routes because there’s no overall power generation in the region where HAS is located. HAS has been able to use a combination of its own generators and a big solar array to provide power to the HAS campus. It’s looking to expand the solar arrays, which supply about 38% of its power needs, although it’s expensive to build more.
“If we can be energy self-sufficient and we are now oxygen self-sufficient, we can be cut off for very long periods of time and still be self-sufficient” for staff and patients, de Matteis said.
That self sufficiency is crucial because the hospital and its medical services play a key role in a health system that is nowhere near as developed as other nations. HAS takes full personal protective precautions in treating its patients, but no one in Haiti has yet been vaccinated; two staff members have died from Covid-19, and there have been a number of cases over the last year. It isn’t clear when the staff, let alone patients, will be able to be vaccinated. The Biden administration has said it wants to get vaccine to Haiti, but vaccinating the population of Haiti will be challenging given the distance, the extreme poverty and security situation.
“The effort is going to be a logistical one. We hope we’re going to be able to get the vaccine donated, but there will be a tremendous cost of distributing and implementing our vaccine program,” de Matteis said.
Meanwhile, HAS focuses on its mission and works to keep staff and patients safe. Those remain the two overarching priorities, he said, even as the country falls further into uncertainty.
“We’ll tackle every challenge as they come up every day,” he said. “There’s so much we can’t control, so we focus on what we can control."
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Canadian Friends of HAS has been a source of donations to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti for the past 17 years. CFHAS and HAS share a special relationship. To find out more, you can visit the CFHAS website at: cfhas.ca or the HAS's website at hashaiti.org. We will he continue to send updates you as we learn more about the Hospital's situation and how you can best respond to sustain their capacities given the growing need during this crisis.