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When the US economy is cold, Haiti gets pneumonia

HAITI'S CORONA CRISIS / Haiti today lacks approximately 5900 hospital seats for covid-19 sufferers. But the biggest obstacle is possibly to convince the people that the corona threat is real.


On May 7, Haiti's Foreign Minister Claude Joseph proudly announced that Haiti it is the country in the region that has dealt with covid-19 crisis best of all. With only 151 confirmed infected and 12 dead, it can almost sound right. But Haiti has only tested 1142 since March 12, and the dark numbers are potentially huge. Neighboring Dominican Republic has as of May 8 reported 9095 infected and 373 dead, but has compared over 40 so far.

A shed in the slum

The alarm went off on March 7. Covid-19 infection was detected in Haiti, and the announcement that the country would be shut down caused panic among people. All schools, universities, factories and borders were closed. The queues at the biggest supermarkets grew rapidly that afternoon, while the prices of necessary goods went up in record speed. Toilet paper and canned goods were hoarded in large SUVs, and the shop owners could rub their hands. For the poor part of the population, the situation was different. It is impossible to hoard anything when the majority of Haiti's population lives below the poverty line ($ 2,40 per day) and you barely have food for a daily meal.

It was reported that one should stay at home and adhere to the rules of social distance. It wasn't long before the rules were broken and the panic escalated. Staying at home simply cannot be done when your family depends on the income you earn through various street activities: buying and selling, exchanging goods, performing services, picking up and bringing something for a coin if you are lucky . At home, too many are a shed in the slum with a canopy, a room or maybe two; in the scorching sun it is not possible to stay indoors all day long.

Poor Haitians who are admitted to public hospitals are used to having to buy gloves, syringes and drinking water themselves.

Photo: Stoffana St. Clair

Health care in trouble before the pandemic

Haiti's health care system was in considerable trouble even before this crisis. The state spends $ 13 per person per year on health care, significantly less than neighboring Dominican Republic ($ 180) and Cuba ($ 781). Only 4,4 per cent of the national budget is allocated to health (figures from the World Bank).

Poor Haitians who are admitted to public hospitals are used to having to buy gloves, syringes and drinking water themselves, which the hospital does not allow. It is reported that doctors and nurses at the largest state hospitals Hôpital d l'Universite d'Etat d'Haiti and Hopital Universitaire de la Paix do not dare to go to work at present, until several safety and protection measures are in place.

An expert group has been set up, led by internationally renowned Dr. Jean William Pape, founder of the Gheskio Clinic, which deals with and conducts research on HIV / AIDS and tuberculosis, to assist the government through the crisis. "This monster is on tour here," says Pape, "and" if a place like New York can get so overpowered, how is Haiti going to deal with this? " The panel of experts expects tens of thousands to die in the next few weeks and the country will need at least 6000 hospital beds for covid-19 patients. That means a shortage of about 5900 today.

It is impossible to hoard anything when the majority
lives below the poverty line and barely has food for a daily meal.

Need money support

The Covid-19 plan will cost money that Haiti does not have. You will need health personnel, protective equipment, oxygen and more. An estimate of $ 30 million is estimated for the first month alone, while Haiti's health budget is a total of approx. $ 60 million a year. The IMF has announced that they support Haiti with $ 111 million to help with covid-19, and USAID promises $ 13 million.

It goes without saying that it is a great challenge to be able to implement the necessary measures, and external support is absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, the biggest obstacle is possibly to convince the population that the corona threat is real.

Petitionville. Photo: Stoffana St. Clair
Petitionville. Photo: Stoffana St. Clair

A lie the people are served?

Haiti is the country where conspiracy theories, gossip, urban myths and facts go hand in hand. The population has a deep distrust of political leaders, and many Haitians believes that there is no covid-19 in the country, that it is a lie the people are served to declare the state of emergency – and thus free up state funds that end up in the pocket of politicians. The same arguments are used when refusing to evacuate ahead of predicted natural disasters, such as Hurricane Matthew in 2016, where police eventually had to evacuate many to save lives.

Prior to this virus crisis, Haiti has been characterized by unrest and violent demonstrations that have dominated daily life in most major cities in the country for the past 18 months. The government is accused corruption and illegal use of violence against protesters. It provides a very poor starting point for President Jovenel Moise and his government to provide the people with reassuring advice and rules for handling covid-19.

No mobile? No support.

One of the measures taken by the government is the payment of a one-time grant of 3000 gourdes per family, just under NOK 300. The money is paid out via mobile phone, and if you do not have a telephone number, you will not be included in the scheme. For 300 kroner you can buy some rice, some bags of spaghetti and a can of oil for cooking. If you are lucky, there is food for three to four days for an average family of five.

Money support from family members who have emigrated abroad amounts to as much as a third of GDP, and the largest transfers come from the United States. With 30 million new "covid-19 unemployed" in the United States, it will surely mean less money for Haiti. Economist Kesner Pharel puts it this way: "When the US economy is cold, Haiti gets pneumonia." It is in the cards that many more Haitians will starve as the situation develops.

At home, too many are a shed in the slum with a canopy – in the scorching sun it is not possible to stay in the day long.

Order on mask use

As of May, the government has ordered the people to wear a mask outside, and if you break this rule, you will be arrested. Prime minister Joseph Jouthe justifies this "that one must arrest people trying to commit suicide". At the same time, there is a great lack of masks, and there is pressure on the textile industry to produce masks for national use only. It has been prohibited to export masks until you have enough to meet the country's own needs. The food markets have been ordered to reduce opening hours to three days a week. The problem with that is that there will be larger numbers of customers in the three days it is open, and not fewer – which will be necessary to prevent infection.

In Norway, we learn that the most important thing we all can and must do to stop the spread of infection is to keep distance and take care of hand and cough hygiene. There are simple rules to adhere to, and we accept them because we trust the intermediaries of these councils. It is a completely different matter in Haiti when those who lead the population through the crisis are perceived as thieves and scoundrels – by angry and hungry people.

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