With a black hole of data, Covid-19 deaths in Haiti remain unknown

. Apr 03, 2020
With a black hole of data, Covid-19 deaths in Haiti remain unknown Jacmel, Haiti. Photo: naTsumi/Shutterstock

At the end of March, Latin America had registered 537 deaths caused by Covid-19, with over 20,000 confirmed cases. Only two countries in the region have yet to see a single death from the disease: El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele is in an all-out war against the virus, and Haiti, where only 16 cases have been confirmed and testing levels are desperately low. 

As The Brazilian Report explained last week, low rates of testing per capita per inhabitant mean underreporting of coronavirus cases, especially in Latin America. And the situation could be even more severe in Haiti, which according to the World Bank is the poorest country in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Haiti has one of the world’s lowest Human Development Indexes

, ranking 168th out of 189 countries. The World Bank also <a href="">estimates</a> that over 60 percent of the country lives below the poverty line, receiving less than USD 3 per day. With the country in a perpetual financial crisis, the health system is in a nosedive.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2010, amid a social crisis that made the UN send <a href="">a military mission led by Brazil</a>, Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7 earthquake, followed by aftershocks of magnitudes 5.9 and 5.5. The episode killed more than 200,000 people, injured 300,000 and left at least 1.5 million Haitians homeless or displaced.&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result of the disaster, the country&#8217;s already precarious sanitary situation became even worse. Almost a decade after the quake, Doctors Without Borders said the Haitian health system is “on the edge of the abyss,” with the NGO’s emergency room attending an average of 2,450 patients per month in 2019.&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, in a tactic copied by <a href="">Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua</a>, the Haitian government reports little or no updates about the coronavirus. On March 3, President Jovenel Möise made his first press conference during the pandemic. He declared that a “public-private working group” was required to provide concrete answers about the virus, giving no further details.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="674" src="" alt="With a black hole of data, Covid-19 deaths in Haiti remain unknown" class="wp-image-34903" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Photo: Daniel-Alvarez/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>In addition, Health Minister Marie Greta Roy Clement confirmed that there are 200 intensive care beds available in the country, numbers that don’t satisfy the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 1 to 3 beds per 10,000 inhabitants — in Brazil, the rate is close to 2. In 2013, Haiti rate of ICU beds was reported at 0.7 per 10,000 people, which indicates a probable collapse.&nbsp;</p> <p>Though this is the first pandemic of the 21st century, Haiti has already had to deal with its own disease epidemics in the current millennium. In October 2010, as the country was still under the debris of the earthquake and with UN troops on the ground, a severe cholera outbreak developed, drastically worsening an already devastating scenario.</p> <p>To make matters worse, the cholera bacteria was brought to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in 2004 by UN soldiers, specifically from Nepal. Since the disease appeared, 770,000 to 800,000 people were infected and at least 10,000 have died. In 2016, the UN apologized and recognized its role in the epidemic, saying “important measures” must be taken.&nbsp;</p> <p>So far, UN high authorities have reported that USD 400 million has been earmarked to help Haiti to fight cholera, with Humanitarian Coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih stating in 2017 that “cholera eradication can be achieved in the medium term, in two or three years, if the emphasis is placed on immediate actions, including management and treatment of water.”&nbsp;</p> <h2>Haiti has big problems, few solutions&nbsp;</h2> <p>Until the organization’s last effort to provide water in 2017, the UN said only 42 percent of the Haitian population had access to safe drinkable water. However, “until today there are cases of cholera in the Haitian health system,” warns Haitian doctor Junot Félix, from Port-Au-Prince.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is undeniable that this epidemic was caused by UN soldiers based in Mirebalais. Even though they recognized their wrongs after various pressures from Haitian civil society organizations, Haiti is still waiting for them to provide reparations. They refuse to start the process of compensating victims,” he told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, back in 2010, World Health Organization (WHO) officials were standoffish on allegations the outbreak had been caused by UN mistakes. At the time, WHO&nbsp; spokesman Gregory Hartl <a href="">said it wasn’t important</a> to find the cause of the health crisis: “It is not something we are thinking about at the moment.”</p> <p>Now Haiti is beyond a pandemic. According to the numbers shared so far, there are 450 people in quarantine waiting to be tested for Covid-19. Dr. Félix complained that even those within the health system are forced to work with the sparse data being released by the government.&nbsp;</p> <p>“At the moment we don’t have a case of community contamination and also 8 out of 16 [infected] people are imported cases, the government doesn’t communicate; there is no transparency in the management of the epidemic.”</p> <p>“The virus has given the government enough time to establish protocols and strengthen the health care system, but they are not yet ready to deal with this epidemic. There are only about 30 respirators across the country and there are less than 60 real intensive care beds in the entire care system,” Mr. Félix pointed out.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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