The people of Haiti can do little but wait for yet another catastrophe. After the 2010 earthquake that killed about 200,000 people, the terrible cholera epidemic that followed (caused by the UN troops and which killed about 10,000) and the devastating Hurricane Matthew of 2016, COVID-19 is only the latest of the perfect storms.
Since March 19, when President Jovenel Moïse—who has stayed in power through months of popular uprisings thanks to unshakeable US support—announced the first two positive cases of the virus, a Belgian and a Frenchman, officially there are still only a few dozen infected (of whom more than half are between 20 and 44 years old), but no one doubts that there are actually many more. Meanwhile, on April 5, the first casualty was recorded: a 55-year-old man who died in a hospital in Port-au-Prince.
The government, until now focused on investing mostly in the repressive apparatus, has intervened by closing down the schools and factories, ports, airports and borders, and imposing a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. This is how it is trying to stem the pandemic, through a prevention-oriented approach, taking into account the manifest inadequacy of the healthcare system, with hospitals and clinics mostly decrepit and poorly equipped and often affected by the strikes of medical staff.
According to the newspaper Le Nouvelliste, there are only 130 intensive care beds in the country (but the real number available could be much smaller) and 64 ventilators (it is not known whether all of them are functional), while, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics, there are only 911 doctors working in the country.
As a result, everything depends on international aid, which already accounts for about two-thirds of the health budget—starting with the aid coming from China, which has already supplied the country with medical equipment, including 140,000 masks, and Cuba, already playing a very active role in Haiti with its healthcare teams, which has sent 348 doctors and other specialists to fight the coronavirus.
In a country where 6 million out of 11 million inhabitants are below the poverty line, even prevention measures are difficult to apply. In the overcrowded slums where the majority of Haitians are concentrated, social distancing and quarantine are a pipe dream, especially in the face of people’s need to take the risk of becoming infected in order to earn money and feed themselves. And in a situation in which only 23% of the population has access to soap and running water, even washing one’s hands is often a luxury reserved for a few.
In this context, where “herd immunity,” rather than any kind of strategy, risks becoming the de facto course of events, the danger of outbreaks of violence is just around the corner. At greatest risk are precisely those infected, who are becoming the targets of death threats from the population, as Alessandro Cadorin, the country representative for Haiti for the Italian Caritas NGO, tells us.