COVID-19 in Haiti — Lets Save Haiti

On March 19, Haitian president Jovenel Moïse confirmed the first two cases of the novel coronavirus in Haiti. The number has since increased to eight. In response, the president has declared a state of emergency and ordered schools, factories, and religious entities to close; established a curfew; and closed the country’s borders. The government announced the new policies after previously suspending air travel from most countries.

The initial reported cases both related to individuals who had traveled internationally. There has, however, only been limited local testing. As of March 25, 58 tests had been administered nationwide, according to the latest epidemiological update. The Ministry of Health has outlined a plan to combat the pandemic in Haiti, estimating a budget of $37.2 million. Already, international and local organizations have been meeting to coordinate the response.

After nearly two years of sustained protests and government inaction, the economic situation in Haiti has already made life exceedingly difficult for the vast majority of the population. The currency has rapidly depreciated, inflation has remained elevated, and the government has been unable to increase revenues domestically or through international assistance. The Haitian government has few fiscal resources to draw upon in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and Haitian families, many already pushed to the edge, are facing an increasingly perilous future.

There are multiple complementary aspects of the response to this virus in Haiti. One centers on the health care system and the ability to adequately detect, treat, and contain the virus. The other relates to the government’s ability to establish and enforce policies that encourage physical distancing. In addressing the latter, it is important to consider how the Haitian population interacts, lives, and survives in order to implement effective policies to contain the virus, protect the population, and ensure access to essential goods.

The cases reported have so far been marked as imported, but with the difficulties of enforcing a sustained national quarantine, Haiti is facing the very real risk of COVID-19 spreading locally. While declaring a state of emergency nationwide was a necessary step, it needs to be boosted by provisions for workers and the poor, and allocations for the health care system. The international community must also play a role, with the World Bank, IMF, and other multilateral development organizations immediately freeing up resources for Haiti and other developing nations to respond to the pandemic.

The Health Care System

Prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Haiti’s health care system faced many challenges. According to a 2019 study by the Research and Education consortium for Acute Care in Haiti (REACH), Haiti only has an estimated 124 ICU beds and 64 ventilators for a population of more than 11 million. Other public health experts have put those figures even lower. This is a serious concern, especially given the relatively high proportion of the population considered to be at an elevated risk. Read more..

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