Haiti: Rehabilitation equipment needed

A powerful aftershock struck the already devastated nation of Haiti Wednesday morning, where tens of thousands of wounded people still have not received medical care after the 7.0-magnitude quake hit January 12.

Handicap International's team in Haiti has already recorded hundreds of completed and scheduled amputations.

One week after the initial earthquake, only 12 hospitals are operating in Port-au-Prince, and they are overwhelmed. On Monday, the U.N. estimated there are 250,000 injuries. To save as many lives as possible, hospitals are rapidly releasing patients who have received treatment. While the consequences are serious for those who reach the hospital too late, they are just as serious for those who leave too soon. 

Under such conditions, which have been compared to a war zone, patients who receive care are leaving hospitals without treatment advice, postoperative follow-up or any prospects of rehabilitation. These people are instead returning to the streets or to makeshift camps where appalling hygienic conditions are conducive to infection and gangrene. 

Since Saturday, Handicap International's team has counted more than 400 amputations in Port-au-Prince alone. Staff reinforcements sent from the United States and Canada, who are currently in the Dominican Republic en route to Haiti, have also counted 20 amputations of wounded Haitians in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. These figures are expected to increase dramatically wherever earthquake victims are receiving care. There is currently no data available on the number of people who have become paralyzed due to spinal cord injuries.  

"It is vital that amputees and patients with other injuries receive immediate follow-up after their amputation or surgery to avoid the onset of complications or permanently disabling aftereffects,” said Handicap International's Thomas Calvot, a care specialist for people injured during emergency situations. “This is the lynchpin of Handicap International's work in emergencies,” he said from Handicap International's headquarters in Lyon.

Handicap International has organized six mobile health teams to perform first aid and stabilize patients awaiting hospitalization. A physical rehabilitation physician, two orthoprosthetic technicians, an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist will join the work force Wednesday, and other staff are expected to arrive next week. Postoperative follow-up and rehabilitation of people injured in the earthquake will start this week, while the first delivery of assistive medical devices should become available in approximately six weeks, when the scarring from amputations has begun to heal. Rehabilitation of the injured and orthopedic equipment will be needed for several years to come, due to the large number of Haitians wounded in this earthquake.