Business Day (Johannesburg)

22 January 2010

South Africa: Haiti Treatment Backlog Grows As New Rescue Team Arrives

Johannesburg — THE second rescue team from South African charity Gift of the Givers arrived in Port-au-Prince early yesterday, as international medics said the treatment backlog for those injured in last week's earthquake had reached 12 days.

The South African team, led by Durban University of Technology emergency rescue lecturer Sageshin Naguran and consisting of six advanced life-support paramedics and four doctors, will join the first group that arrived in the Haitian capital at the weekend.

The first Gift of the Givers team took part with Mexican counterparts in the dramatic rescue of a 70-year-old woman earlier this week, seven days after the quake had struck.

Although rescuers are still finding survivors, not many more are expected to be still alive. Aid workers were yesterday digging more mass graves on a hillside north of Haiti's capital, using earth-movers to bury 10000 earthquake victims in a single day. The death toll is estimated at well above 100000, according to Haitian government figures relayed by the European Commission.

The commission now estimates the homeless at 2-million, up from 1,5-million, and says 250 000 are in need of urgent aid.

Medical clinics had long patient backlogs, untreated injuries were festering and makeshift camps housing thousands of survivors could foster disease, experts said. "The next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor or nonexistent sanitation," said Dr Greg Elder, Doctors Without Borders deputy operations manager in Haiti.

Elder said patients were dying of sepsis from untreated wounds and some of the group's posts had 10- to 12-day backups of patients.

Doctors reported shortages of medical equipment, and pleaded for more medics, casts and metal plates to fix broken limbs.

Governments have pledged nearly 1bn in aid to Haiti, according to estimates, including 575m from the European Union's 27 nations. Aid efforts were still being hampered by logistical bottlenecks, although security concerns have abated .

The capital was hit by another quake measuring about 6 on the Richter scale on Wednesday, sending aid workers, medics and Haitians living in tents in the city racing for open ground. Haiti has been rocked by dozens of smaller aftershocks.

President Rene Preval's offices and homes were destroyed in the January 12 temblor, which also killed the head of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission.

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