Haiti was able to weather the first COVID-19 wave that began two years ago without developing a major public health crisis. In May 2021, the second COVID-19 wave hit, driven by two, more infectious, virus variants from Brazil and Great Britain. Documented COVID-19 cases and fatalities are up more than fivefold and hospitals in Port-au-Prince (PAP) are saturated with COVID-19 patients. The surge in COVID-19 infections is occurring amidst a surge of armed gang violence that has caused the death and forced displacement of thousands of Haitian citizens.
St. Luc’s Hospital, one of the few facilities in PAP with designated beds for patients infected with COVID-19, increased its capacity from 20 to 120 beds and cannot accept more patients. The hospital also cannot keep up with demand for oxygen for patients in respiratory distress because of the high costs, and gang violence, which has impeded access to the oxygen supply facility located in the dangerous Cite Soleil area.
The pandemic has finally drawn the attention of government policymakers, as every few days another prominent figure or government official succumbs to the disease. The Haitian Ministry of Health and Population has responded by declaring a “State of Emergency” mandating a range of public health measures. A vaccination program, the key to curtailing the pandemic in Haiti, is desperately needed.
Haiti is one of the few countries in the world in which not one citizen has received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Haitian government declined an offer of a shipment of Astra-Zeneca vaccine by the World Health Organization COVAX mechanism because of safety and logistical concerns. It recently reversed that decision, and Haiti is scheduled to receive 130,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of June. We hope that a portion of the 500 million surplus Pfizer vaccine doses that the Biden Administration plans to donate to countries in need will be supplied to Haiti to stem the growing humanitarian crisis.