We should treat Haitian earthquake victims in American hospitals
The word coming down from the Red Cross in Haiti is that about 50,000 are believed to have died in the January 12 earthquake, and that 3 million of the country’s inhabitants have been affected. The question now is how many will die due to treatable injuries they sustained in the quake because the country’s medical infrastructure, along with everything else, has essentially crumbled (see the WHO telling the AP that 8 of Port-au-Prince’s hospitals have been destroyed).
CNN has called the medical situation in Haiti “a perfect storm” (an ironic thing to say about a catastrophe in Haiti that, for a change, was not caused by a storm) because the destruction of the country’s public health system means that, “minor injuries or fractures can become life-threatening because they’re left open to bacterial infections such as tetanus.” Dr. Greg Elder of Doctors Without Borders, which operated 3 hospitals in the country, told Gwen Ifill that they were literally moving patients outdoors in order to continue caring for them safely.
What that means is many Haitians injured by the quake (not to neglect those who may fall victim to preventable illnesses caused by things like lack of clean drinking water) will find it difficult to find care beyond basic triage in the country itself. And that’s why America should pick up as many appropriate injury victims as it can and take them to state-of-the-art hospitals in Florida and other nearby parts of the United States where life-saving care can be administered.
Now I don’t want to say that the US isn’t trying to do everything it can. We’re sending the USNS Comfort and the USS Vinson, along with soldiers and Marines, to back up the Coast Guard’s already extraordinary efforts to assist the victims, and some Haitians will no doubt be treated aboard those ships, and by American military medics. And our aid agencies and civil society groups will also contribute mightily to medical care in country.
But in speaking of evacuations of injured people from the country, President Obama focused on helping American citizens:
We have no higher priority than the safety of American citizens, and we’ve airlifted injured Americans out of Haiti. We’re running additional evacuations, and will continue to do so in the days ahead.
It’s appropriate for the US to evacuate its citizens (and there are about 45,000 in the country, many of whom were born in the US or naturalized and moved back), and perhaps even helpful to the overall relief effort as an evacuated American is not taking up a hospital bed that another Haitian could be lying in. But if our country stops there, we are not doing enough.
Some aid groups on the ground have already recognized the need to evacuate critically injured Haitians, and the Tenet Healthcare Corp. announced its willingness to serve as an evacuation site. The question is whether this willingness on the part of the private and civil sectors to help Haitian earthquake victims in our country will collide with bureaucracy and politics. The flight of Haitian refugees to America, particularly ‘boat people’ arriving in Florida, has been a political issue in America for several decades. According to this Fox News report (of course…), the Department of Homeland Security is already making plans to intercept refugees who may be fleeing the destruction in the months and years ahead.
Combined with the fraught political issue of immigration and the bureaucracy of issuing visas in this country, it isn’t hard to imagine Haiti’s perfect storm that is not a storm compounded with the perfect storm of immigration bureaucracy to prevent injured Haitians from being treated in hospitals in Florida, Georgia, and elsewhere (not to forget the conflict-ready Senate election that Florida will have this November).
But this is an issue where politics needs to take a back seat to humanitarian needs. Any Haitian whose life can be saved by treatment in American hospitals approximately two to four hours away deserves everything we can offer them.