By: Gabrielle Belanger, CHI Summer Intern
As the novel coronavirus raged around the world in 2020 and early 2021, it seemed that Haiti had been spared from the worst. Haiti endured a wave of COVID-19 infections in March of 2020, but otherwise reported low infection and death rates. As of April of this year, Haiti reported that 22 individuals per million residents had passed from coronavirus or related complications. However, the number of infections and deaths is likely to be much higher due to limitations with coronavirus testing and receiving medical attention in parts of Haiti.
During the pandemic, the country did not fully shut down, with most businesses remaining open and many people opting to forgo masks. Nonetheless, the openness and ventilation of buildings in Haiti helped prevent the spread of the pathogen. In addition, with such a young population – with an average age of 23 – the virus is likely to have had less severe consequences for those who caught it, as COVID-19 infections tend to be less detrimental in younger individuals, which likely contributed to a low concern for the virus among citizens.
However, as many other countries begin to return to normal, cases and deaths have surged in Haiti. Since the beginning of May, hospitals have been overwhelmed with new cases on a level that had previously only been seen in Haiti in March of 2020. This surge of cases can likely be attributed to the highly contagious coronavirus variants that emerged from the United Kingdom and Brazil. The cost of medical care has skyrocketed and vaccinations are still unavailable in the country, contributing to the magnitude of the issue. As of early July, Haiti has reported 467 deaths from coronavrius.
In light of the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, the COVID-19 crisis has become even more dire with increased rates of transmission and difficulty of accessing medical care. People avoiding the unrest have been forced into cramped spaces which facilitate the spread of the virus and the violence has hindered access to necessary aid and medical attention. At this critical point in the nation’s history, the country’s political issues have become intertwined with the COVID-19 crisis, threatening the health of Haitians.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CHI has changed our way of delivering health care to our patients by offering mobile clinics throughout the past year and a half. Our staff are being very cautious and are ready to postpone clinic if needed, but were adamant about going ahead with the clinic after the assassination, because they did not want our patients to miss their prescription refills or to feel abandoned during this frightening moment. They also distributed dry beans and rice on the home visits, as some warehouses with food burned in the unrest following the assassination, causing food prices to triple overnight. The feedback we got during the July Haitian-led clinic is that people rejoiced when they saw our crew setting up in the village!
Andre Paultre, Sarah Marsh. “Coronavirus Wave Takes Haiti, Yet to Begin Vaccinations, by Surprise.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 9 June 2021, www.reuters.com/world/americas/coronavirus-wave-takes-haiti-yet-begin-vaccinations-by-surprise-2021-06-09/.
Beaubien, Jason. “One Of The World's Poorest Countries Has One Of The World's Lowest COVID Death Rates.” NPR, NPR, 4 May 2021, www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/05/04/992544022/one-of-the-worlds-poorest-countries-has-one-of-the-worlds-lowest-covid-death-rat.
Charles, Jacqueline. “Haiti’s COVID-19 Surge: A Cautionary Tale about How Quickly Things Can Change.” Miami Herald, 2 June 2021, www.miamiherald.com/article251840458.html.
Parker, Claire, and Emily Rauhala. “Twin Epidemics in Haiti, Violence and Coronavirus, Usher in ‘Critical Phase’ in Wake of Assassination.” The Washington Post, 8 July 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/08/haiti-health-crisis/.