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Haiti: Narrow escape from death

17-03-2004 News Release 04/34

Philippe (not his real name) owes his life to a last-minute operation performed by an ICRC surgeon. He was treated at Canapé-Vert Hospital in Port-au-Prince after ICRC doctors had evacuated him from the town of Gonaives, held by the armed opposition, in mid-February. He went home just a few days ago.


Suffering from serious gunshot wounds, Philippe needed a complex vascular surgery to save his life. ©ICRC 

Night had already fallen when Daniel, a doctor, and François, a surgeon, both from the ICRC, arrived in Gonaives on 16 February. On their long journey they had encountered numerous checkpoints manned by the Haitian police, militias loyal to the government or the armed opposition.

Before leaving Port-au-Prince in the early morning, the two men had informed all the authorities and armed groups that a humanitarian convoy consisting of three vehicles carrying 1.6 tonnes of surgical material was on its way to the public referral hospital in Gonaives. It was the first humanitarian convoy to reach the town, which had been in the hands of the armed opposition since 5 February.

In Gonaives, Daniel and François discovered a hospital that had been deserted by doctors and patients alike. From their hiding places at home, where the ICRC team found them, the doctors described the tragic scenes which had taken place at the hospital on 7 February. " An armed man who had been wounded entered the hospital pursued by a crowd that was also armed. There was a shoot-out in which people were killed or wounded, " said one doctor, who added, " Since then, no doc tors or patients have dared to stay at the hospital and the sick and wounded have gone untended. "

A surprising thing happened as soon as the ICRC doctors arrived at the hospital. Having seen the ICRC vehicles going by, a large number of people, most of whom had gunshot wounds, headed for the hospital. Philippe was among them. Daniel and François immediately started work with the assistance of Cuban and Haitian colleagues, who were on the spot. They laboured non-stop for thirty-six hours, sometimes carrying out delicate surgical operations, and thus managed to save the lives of at least a dozen patients.

Philippe had been the first to arrive at the hospital. He came on crutches and had to be operated on straightaway, because a bullet had torn an artery in his lower abdomen thereby causing a severe haemorrhage. The ICRC surgeon managed to staunch the bleeding only with great difficulty and he very soon realized that complex vascular surgery was necessary, but that the requisite instruments were lacking in Gonaives. If Philippe were to be saved, he would have to be taken to Port-au-Prince as fast as possible, despite the front line separating the territory held by the armed opposition from the rest of the country. All the parties were informed of the need for this evacuation and Philippe, accompanied by his mother, was transported in the ICRC convoy that left for Port-au-Prince on 18 February.

The ICRC doctor was able to operate on Philippe at Canapé-Vert Hospital in Port-au-Prince. After several weeks in hospital, Philippe gradually recovered from his wounds. On 11 March, another ICRC convoy took him back to Gonaives where he was to continue his convalescence at home.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Simon Pluess, ICRC Port-au-Prince, tel. ++ 509 256 78 24 or ++509 257 71 43 or ++509 525 62 68  

 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++ 41 22 730 24 58 or ++ 41 79 217 32 24  

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