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Young, injured Haitian quake survivors cross Dominican border for treatment

© US Fund for UNICEF/2010/Alleyne
At a special ward in Dario Contreras Hospital, located in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, a nurse stands beside a Haitian child who is being treated for injuries sustained in the 12 January earthquake.

By Richard Alleyne

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, 21 January 2010 – Nine days after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, UNICEF is delivering life-saving support to children and families in need. Several planeloads of aid have landed in Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Half a dozen more supply flights are scheduled to arrive before the end of the week.

Meanwhile, injured survivors – including many children suffering from crush injuries and trauma – have been crossing the border into the Dominican Republic to seek medical attention that is not readily available in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

Dominican hospitals along the border – particularly the state-run facility in the town of Jimani – have tried to respond to the overwhelming demand. The Ministry of Health has brought in additional medical personnel from surrounding districts, but these facilities’ capacity to meet the growing need remains woefully inadequate.

Children flown in
In an attempt to ease some of the pressure, the Dominican Government has reserved a ward at Dario Contreras Hospital for the quake's youngest victims.

Situated just off a busy highway in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, the facility specializes in trauma care. The most severely injured children are being flown to Dario Contreras from the border.

"To date, we have 47 Haitian children being treated here," said the hospital’s director, Dr. Hector Quezada. "We have children as young as one month and as old as 14 years, and have been treating them for contusions, head trauma and fractured bones."

Dario Contreras is the first step for these children. As part of its child-protection programme, UNICEF is working with the National Council of Children and other partners to create safe spaces for them when it is time to leave.

Treatment and information
During a visit yesterday, the hallways of the hospital ward bustled with hospital staff and volunteers, as well as family members seeking information about their loved ones. Loud prayers and other exhortations mixed with the piercing wail of infants.

Emmanuel – a Haitian who lives in the Dominican Republic but has family in the earthquake zone – walked from room to room appealing for help from anyone who would listen. "I haven't heard any news about my son, and I've been to every hospital in Santo Domingo," he said. "Please. His name is Maximo. Please help me find him!"

In the days and weeks ahead, as more Haitians seek medical treatment and information at Dario Contreras, Dr. Quezada anticipates that he will need help to maintain order and keep up with logistics. "We have more patients coming in every day," he noted.

‘A gesture of generosity’
For now, a group of Dominican women are ensuring that the babies in the ward have adequate food.

"A lot of infant children have arrived at the hospital without their parents. They need mother’s milk to continue to live," said Dr. Quezada. "We currently have some Dominican mothers who have donated their milk to feed these infants. This is a gesture of a generosity and solidarity."

Back in Haiti, UNICEF is leading relief efforts to protect child health by providing 200,000 litres of safe water per day in affected communities and 120,000 litres in hospitals. Water is critical to stave off a second wave of disaster caused by waterborne disease outbreaks, especially among children.

High-protein, ready-to-eat food is also ready for distribution, with more on the way, to prevent severe and acute malnutrition among thousands of Haitian children at risk.

UNICEF will continue working with the authorities in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to meet the medical needs of earthquake-affected children and their families – and to help them deal with the psychological impact of what they have endured. The well-being of these children is UNICEF's top priority in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy.

Chris Niles contributed to this story from New York.

 

 
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