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Haiti's hospitals close to collapse as fuel remains scarce

Haiti's hospitals close to collapse as fuel remains scarce
By Reuters
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By Gessika Thomas and Brian Ellsworth

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Desperate to have her infant son Pierre admitted to hospital to treat his anemia and diarrhea, Mirlande Cherie set out two weeks ago on an odyssey to find a medical facility that had not already been shuttered by Haiti's fuel shortages.

Cherie rode on the back of a motorcycle with Pierre in her arms as one hospital after another in the capital Port-au-Prince told her they did not have enough diesel to run generators that ensure electricity in the Caribbean nation.

On Wednesday, she finally arrived at the La Paix University Hospital, where only the pediatric ward was operating.

Fuel remains scarce as a coalition of gangs blocks access to fuel terminals to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, signaling the growing power of criminal organizations that this month kidnapped 17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries.

"I left my house on Oct. 14 to make the rounds of several public hospitals," said Cherie, whose son first fell ill four months ago and worsened following treatment he received while staying with family in Haiti's provinces.

"We are going through difficult times."

The hospital, which is usually packed, was empty during a visit on Wednesday, because most wards were closed and few patients could arrive anyway due to lack of transport.

Haiti's fuel shortages continue to threaten the operations of medical facilities, which cannot depend on the unreliable power grid for electricity, putting an additional burden on a population already struggling under rising malnutrition and gang violence.

Haiti's hospitals generate electricity using diesel generators. But gangs in the increasingly lawless nation have blocked access to port terminals that supply that fuel, forcing hospitals to shut many of their wards.

La Paix University Hospital referred questions to Haiti's Health Ministry, which did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Henry in a speech late on Thursday acknowledged that gangs have acted with impunity in blocking fuel trucks, but said the police have created a "security corridor" to ensure deliveries and that improvements should be visible in the coming days.

"The country's hospitals will be in great difficulty if they cannot find fuel to produce electricity to treat the sick," he said. "Thieves and murderers must be treated for who they are."

United Nations children's agency UNICEF said on Sunday that fuel shortages in Haiti are putting the lives of hundreds of women and children at risk.

The lack of fuel left the normally bustling streets of Port-au-Prince unusually quiet as drivers seek to conserve fuel, and a strike by transportation sector leaders further limited mobility. 

Some fuel trucks by Friday had started moving thanks to police escorts, said Marc Andre Deriphonse, who heads the nation's association of gas station owners. But he added there was still limited access to the main fuel terminal of Varreux.

One La Paix hospital doctor who asked not to be identified said the pediatric ward was the only one functioning because it does not need electricity, though it is unable to treat babies born prematurely.

The hospital has halted all surgeries because doctors cannot take the risk of losing power in the middle of an operation, the doctor said, adding that hospital staff were struggling to come to work due to transportation problems.

"Sometimes some doctors come but with the greatest of difficulties because getting around is an obstacle course for everyone because fuel is just not available at the moment," he said.

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