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Haiti: ICRC steps up efforts to care for wounded

24-02-2004 News Release 04/14

Geneva (ICRC) - In view of the deteriorating situation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has decided to step up its operations in Haiti. In particular, it is about to fly in a surgical team to take over responsibility for treating the wounded in Canapé Vert Hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Surgery and post-operative treatment will be provided free of charge to the patients. The Haitian authorities have committed themselves to taking measures to improve the safety of patients, their visiting relatives and hospital staff. The hospital will be marked with the red cross emblem.

Similar measures will be taken in the coming days in the port city of Gonaives, north of Port-au-Prince, where the main hospital had been abandoned by its staff and patients because of the poor security that followed fighting about two weeks ago between government units and insurgents who are now holding the northern part of the country. The presence of an ICRC doctor and surgeon last week encouraged the hospital's staff and patients to return to the facility, and other injured persons to seek treatment there.

Yves Giovannoni, head of ICRC operations for Latin America and the Caribbean, reported that medical facilities in a number of Haitian towns had come under attack in recent days, forcing patients and staff to leave for their own safety. " The ICRC has called on all sides to respect the inviolability of hospitals, ambulances and medical staff, " he said. " By increasing its own visibility and presence the ICRC hopes that it will ensure an acceptable level of security in medical facilities. "

The ICRC has been providing medical support for hospitals in Port-au-Prince and Gonaives where people wounded in the fighting have been taken. Security guarantees from the government and opposition groups enabled two convoys to reach Gonaives last week. The ICRC delegation is studying the possibility of sending further medical suppli es by road to Cap Haitien.

The situation in the country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, is critical. " Any further deterioration in public services will have grave consequences for the civilian population, " said Giovannoni. " Humanitarian organizations must therefore be allowed to operate securely. "

In cooperation with the Haitian National Red Cross Society, the ICRC is using various methods, including radio spots aired several times a day by local stations, to encourage respect for medical staff, hospital facilities and humanitarian activities in general.

In addition to its medical activities, the ICRC is continuing to visit people deprived of their freedom as a result of the fighting in order to assess treatment and conditions of detention, and to prevent disappearances.

An appeal for additional funding is currently being prepared to enable the ICRC to continue its operations in Haiti.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Simon Pluess, ICRC Port-au-Prince, tel. +509 257 7143 or +509 525 6268  

 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 2458 or +41 79 217 3224