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U.S. Government Resumes Medical Evacuations From Haiti; New Food Voucher Distribution Targeting Women Begins

“The U.S. government said on Sunday it would resume military evacuation flights” within 12 hours for critically ill and injured Haitians who were harmed in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Reuters reports (Rosenberg/Brown, 1/31). Medical evacuations had been suspended for a few days, but the reason for the suspension “is unclear as various government authorities have provided different explanations,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

In a statement, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said, “Patients are being identified for transfer, doctors are making sure that it is safe for them to fly, and we are preparing specific in-flight pediatric care aboard the aircraft where needed.” According to Vietor, Florida is identifying facilities to absorb new patients and some evacuees could be sent to other countries. The article examines some of the logistical issues caused by the halted medical evacuations (Gauthier-Villars/McKay/Levitz, 2/1).

Before medical evacuations resumed, some doctors in Haiti feared the move would endanger the lives of injured people, according to a second Reuters article. “The medical care worries have increased after the U.S. military on Wednesday stopped flying critical quake patients to U.S. hospitals for treatment, in a confused dispute over where they should be hospitalized and who should pay the costs,” the news service writes.

“Suspension of the U.S. military medevac flights has increased pressure on emergency medical teams in Haiti who are working around the clock to treat seriously injured quake survivors, either in damaged local hospitals or in fully equipped emergency clinics that have been flown in” (Rosenberg/Brown, 2/1).

Coupon-Based Food Distribution System Announced By U.N.

“After two weeks of often chaotic food distribution, the United Nations announced plans on Saturday for a coupon-based system that aims to give rice to 10,000 Haitians a day at each of 16 locations around Port-au-Prince,” the New York Times reports (Cave, 1/30).

On Sunday, a little more than “376 metric tons of rice were distributed to 100,368 people at nine locations,” according to information from World Food Programme spokesman Marcus Prior, CNN reports. “The food distribution plan, coordinated by the United Nations World Food Programme, international aid agencies and the Haitian government, was to hand out food at 16 identified points across the city. But on Sunday, people at only nine of those places were able to collect, Prior said. More time was needed to prepare ration coupons at five sites, Prior said” (Basu, 2/1).

For the new strategy, “The U.N. World Food Program and its partners, including World Vision, borrowed an approach that has worked in other disaster zones. The agencies fanned out across Port-au-Prince, distributing coupons to be redeemed for bags of rice sites across the city. The coupons were given mainly to women, the elderly and the disabled,” the Associated Press/Washington Post writes in a story examining the new approach. “Men could redeem coupons for women who were busy taking care of children or who otherwise could not make it. … Officials targeted women because they are primary caregivers in most households and are less likely to be aggressive in aid lines” (Fox, 1/31).

Women with coupons were given 55-pound bags of rice, according to USA Today. “Each bag is intended to help feed a family of six for two weeks with about half the calories they need each day” (Dilanian, 2/1). Women were the targets of the food distribution campaign, “but at the main park in Petionville and at the sports stadium downtown, men with coupons also filled the line, and left carrying away the same bags of rice as the women,” the New York Times writes (Cave/Thompson, 1/31).

On Friday, the U.N. warned that it could take generations to rebuild Haiti because the country was starting from “below zero” and logistics after the earthquake continued to be a “nightmare,” the Guardian reports. “Edmond Mulet, acting head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, warned that emergency relief efforts were the start of a commitment that would be much longer than the international community might realise. ‘I think this is going to take many more decades … this is an enormous backwards step in Haiti’s development” (Carroll, 1/29).

News Outlets Examine Food Distribution, Aid Delivery

The Washington Post examines the U.S role in Haiti relief and recovery. “But even as food-aid workers enjoyed their most successful day since the Jan. 12 earthquake, the increasingly prominent role of U.S. troops and civilians in the capital is creating high expectations that the Obama administration is struggling to contain. The needs are extraordinary, and the common refrain is that the Americans will provide,” the newspaper writes.

According to the Washington Post, “U.S. officials are doing what they can to bolster the stature of [President Rene] Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and to promote international assistance efforts for the more daunting work that lies ahead. In the meantime, they are deploying personnel to support projects from food delivery to the erection of a temporary hospital near Port-au-Prince” (Slevin, 2/1).

In related coverage, the New York Times looks into the debate over how to use aid and outside institutions in Haiti’s reconstruction. “One side argues that Haiti should be temporarily taken over by an international organization, which would govern it and oversee its rebuilding. On the other extreme, minimalists fervently believe that years of failed, foreign-imposed aid projects underscore that this time Haitians need to develop and implement their own plans,” according to the newspaper (MacFarquhar, 1/30).

The Washington Post reports on a new week-long project to determine the most pressing needs of the earthquake survivors in Haiti. “Three-person teams, each including at least one member who speaks Creole and French, are fanning out to 152 sites across the country this week, asking a long series of questions to ‘key informants.’ When they are done, they hope to have a clearer picture of the food, shelter, water, sanitation and health-sector needs of the Haitian population,” according to the newspaper. The project – which is a being run by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the WHO and the CDC – is collecting data on “hand-held computers (PDAs) as well as on paper forms marked with pencils.”

According to the Washington Post, “The ‘evidence-based’ paradigm slowly remaking medicine has crept into disaster medicine, too. So has the drive to make this field, like much of the rest of medical care, more democratic and responsive to the consumer and less paternalistic and responsive to the expert” (Brown, 1/31).

$700M Agricultural Investment Fund Aims To Boost Food Production, Jobs

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “is calling for donations for a $700 million agricultural investment fund for Haiti to help it boost food production and create jobs,” the AP reports (1/29). “The [18 month] plan, designed by the Haitian government and supported by FAO and the Inter-American Institute for Agriculture Cooperation, calls for an immediate investment of $32 million to buy seeds, tools and fertilizers so Haitian farmers can start planting in March, FAO said in a statement,” Bloomberg reports (Brasileiro, 1/29).

Maternal Health; Disease Epidemics

The New York Times examines the challenges facing pregnant women and women who have given birth since the earthquake hit in Haiti. “The pregnant are an especially vulnerable subset of victims of the quake that has left so many Haitians homeless and desolate. The United Nations estimates that 15 percent of the 63,000 pregnant women in the earthquake-affected areas are likely to have potentially life-threatening complications. For the roughly 7,000 who will give birth in the next month, the risks are even greater. … Even before the quake, this small country had the highest rates of infant, of under-5 and of maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere; on average, according to United Nations reports, 670 Haitian women out of every 100,000 die in childbirth, compared with 11 in the United States” (Cave, 1/29).

The Guardian reports on the imminent risk of malaria and typhoid as the rainy season approaches. “With up to a million Haitians thought to have lost their homes in the earthquake, and hundreds of thousands still living in 600 squatter settlements around the capital, aid officials warn that the arrival of rain could present them with a further medical crisis after hospitals were initially swamped with patients needing amputations or treatment for crushing injuries. Haiti’s rains normally come in February and the prospect of bad weather has aid workers and homeless people scared. The hurricane season starts in July,” the Guardian writes.

The article includes quotes from different aid group officials and notes the spread of disease among children (Phillips, 1/31).

In related news, the WHO “says the risk of epidemics breaking out in earthquake-devastated Haiti is increasing as the rainy season approaches.  WHO says it already is receiving reports of a growing number of cases of diarrhea, measles and tetanus,” VOA News reports.

“We are very focused on the fact that the rainy and hurricane seasons are on their way,” Paul Garwood, a spokesperson for the agency, said. “The distribution of clean drinking water to as many people as possible, ensuring that sanitation and hygiene standards are high, particularly in areas where people are living temporarily, establishing early warning systems for disease outbreaks and reports of suspected diseases.  This enables [us] to quickly respond to pockets of suspected cases and to try and bring them under control,” Garwood added (Schlein, 1/30).