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Haitian Health Concerns Grow Due to Devastating Quake

As President Barack Obama pledges one of the biggest relief efforts in recent history and begins the 3,500-soldier and 2,200-marine rescue mission to Haiti, it is becoming clear through various correspondents that the situation in the major cities of the island nation is becoming increasingly desperate. Tens of thousands are estimated to be dead – 50,000 is the Red Cross's best guess at this time – and over 3 million affected. Thousands are buried under the rubble of fallen buildings and the search and rescue teams currently working on the ground lack the necessary heavy lifting equipment to help the trapped victims. Medicine, food, and water are in short supply and growing more scarce by the hour as groceries and food stores are raided by people who have lost their own homes and places of work. In a written statement to the Washington Post, former President Bill Clinton called the quake "one of the great humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas."

One of the most disastrous effects of the quake is the current shortage of health care and supplies. Nearly all the hospitals and health care facilities in Port-Au-Prince, capital of Haiti and epicenter of the earthquake, have been severely damaged or destroyed completely. In any case such structural damage would be detrimental to relief efforts, but in the case of Haiti the damage may lead to an inconceivable crisis. Before the quake, Haiti had appalling levels of public health issues: 80% of the population of Haiti lives below the poverty line – the nation is by far the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – and there are abnormally high rates of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, respiratory diseases, diarrhea, disease associated with intestinal worms, dengue fever, and many other health concerns on the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola.

The main cause of Haiti's health concerns prior to the earthquake were the poor conditions of the country's water and sanitation infrastructure. The majority of Haitians lacked access to clean drinking water before; the earthquake has wrought unimaginable further damage to an already broken system, and the consequences may be dire and long-term.

Doctors Without Borders (or Medecins Sans Frontieres) stated in a recent CNN article that even before the earthquake, basic health services in Port-au-Prince were essentially nonexistent due to poor management, lack of supplies, and limited trained personnel. The few hospitals that did exist were already stretched to their limits. According to Fox News correspondent Dr. Manny Alvarez, "the people of Haiti are going to be at increased risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases, food poisoning, as well as worsening of injuries sustained by those in high-risk groups like children and seniors."

International aid and rescue teams are beginning to arrive on the island, but it is still unclear how much they will be able to help; though the airport runway outside Port-Au-Prince is functional, the tower communications system is not working. An Air Force Special Forces unit has been deployed to set up temporary air-traffic control systems that will handle the waves of international aid headed to Port-Au-Prince. But as of now, many parts of the city remain inaccessible except by helicopter.'s Chief Medical Officer and outdoor health expert Dr. Paul Auerbach is en route to Haiti to provide emergency medical care. He’s going with the International Medical Corps, along with a small group from the Stanford Medical Center, with which he is affiliated. We hope to receive on-the-ground correspondances from Dr. Auerbach in the coming weeks. Please check his blog for updates.

How You Can Help

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the American Red Cross are urging Americans who wish to help to text "Haiti" to the number 90999 – doing so will automatically add a $10 donation charge to your monthly cell phone bill. 100% of the funds donated will go to support Red Cross efforts in Haiti. You can print a receipt through mGive, a foundation that helps nonprofits take advantage of mobile technology.

You may also make a donation to the American Red Cross International Response Fund at or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Here's a list of a few other nonprofits currently working in Haiti:
  • UNICEF is the United Nations Fund focusing on children. Donate here.
  • Doctors Without Borders is an international NGO that sends doctors and medical supplies to places in need. Donate here.
  • Mercy Corps is an NGO with a lot of earthquake-specific relief experience. Donate here.
  • Partners in Health is an NGO that focuses on delivering medical supplies and staff in emergencies. Donate here.
  • Wyclef Jean’s Haiti-focused foundation, Yele. Donate here, or give $5 by texting YELE to 501501.
For even more places to donate, see MSNBC's comprehensive list here.

Written By: Elijah Wolfson
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