The tremor which shook Haiti, 7.3 on the Richter scale, generated an immediate response by the international community. Different bodies responsible for the humanitarian aid offered by the United Nations (UN) and diplomatic delegations began to send food and professionals for relief work.

However, the first organisations to participate in rescue operations were those that, at the moment the earthquake struck, were already working in the Caribbean country, the most neglected in the American continent: 80% of its inhabitants are poor, two thirds of the population is without work and it has an infant mortality rate of 76 for every thousand births.

One of them was Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international humanitarian organisation delivering medical action to assist poverty-stricken populations and victims of catastrophes and armed conflicts, regardless of race, religion or political ideology. Carolina Heidenhain, responsible for communication from her offices in Buenos Aires says “in the first 72 hours following the earthquake they had already attended to over two thousand people”.

The catastrophe badly affected MSF’s premises in Haiti. The three hospitals that the organisation was running in Port au Prince were partially destroyed and even patients and members of its teams were seriously injured. Confronted with this situation, its teams had to evacuate the hospitals and set up tents in the middle of the street to be able to help the hundreds of thousands affected by the earthquake.

Heidenhain warns that ‘the experts say that they are overwhelmed, that they have never seen as many people injured and of this gravity’. At one centre, 25 surgeries were performed in one single day. And now there is a risk of infection from non serious injuries.

Confronted by this critical situation, MSF had decided to send around 70 international workers to Haiti during the first few hours. Among them, several nephrologists to attend to patients with crush syndrome. Heidenhain says “our experience of earthquakes and tsunamis like the Philippines, Indonesia and Peru tells us that it takes an essential specialisation to manage these situations”.

Likewise, 80 tons of material was sent immediately, including a field hospital with capacity for 100 patients, which includes two theatres and seven hospitalisation tents.

Joan Tubau, MSF’s director of operations confirms that the city is devastated: “chaos reigns everywhere. The desperation is so huge that people come not only to our hospitals but also to our offices”. At the site where the organisations administration office used to be, an emergency room has been improvised where there are 350 people.

Tabu states “in a country where broad sections of the population, especially in the capital, Port au Prince, live in precarious conditions due to poverty and abandonment, urban violence and no access to health care, this is the drop that made the cup overflow”.

Finally, MSF has begun a campaign to raise funds which are earmarked exclusively for this emergency and its projects in Haiti. At the moment when disaster struck, the organisation had three hospitals: a clinic for free emergency obstetric care in the poorest areas of Port au Prince, a traumatology clinic and a primary health care clinic, which mainly dealt with cases of urban violence.

“We have workers with an enormous vocation of service”, they tell us from the organisation awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1999. “It is not just about doctors and nurses, but also health workers, logicians and administrators with a huge humanitarian vocation. If they form part of our team it is because of their desire to help communities around the world”.

*(Translation provided by Rhona Desmond)*