As more doctors are kidnapped in Haiti, hospitals protest by refusing new patients

·5 min read
Jose A. Iglesias/jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

The kidnapping-for-ransom of two more doctors in Haiti, where a pediatrician on Friday marked her 16th day in captivity, is prompting hospitals and physicians in the capital to close their doors and turn away new patients in protest.

Bernard Mevs, a facility that specializes in trauma and critical care, and the Hospital of the State University of Haiti, the country’s key public healthcare facility, both confirmed Friday that they are not admitting any new patients for the moment.

In a public statement, Bernard Mevs said it will keep its emergency room open for extreme cases. But doctors, who asked to remain anonymous because they fear being abducted, told the Miami Herald they are scared.

Kidnapping, they say, has become such an epidemic that no one is safe — not even them.

Already, pediatricians had decided to implement a three-day work stoppage, taking only emergency calls until Saturday. Meanwhile, the Haitian Society of Pediatrics and the Haitian Medical Association have called for a protest in front of the office of Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Tuesday. Henry, himself a physician, is a neurologist.

“Let’s say no to insecurity! Demand our leaders and the international community look into the anarchic situation that is currently raging in our country!” the pediatrics association said in a statement.

In February, the United Nations reported that kidnappings for ransom in Haiti had risen by 180% in the past year. Even with most kidnappings going unreported, Haiti has one of the highest ransom kidnapping rates in the world. Abductions have continued unabated while a surge in gang violence also continues to terrorize the population.

The crime observation unit of Haiti’s Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights says it has recorded 225 kidnappings for the first quarter of this year, compared to 142 for the similar period in 2021, an increase of 58.45%. This suggests that there will be a staggering increase for the year, said executive director Gèdèon Jean, if the $160 million in pledges by the U.S., Canada and France made at two high-level meetings on Haiti do not materialize.

This is not the first time that healthcare professionals have gone on strike in Haiti over kidnappings. In March, a three-day strike involving doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers led to a shutdown of medical facilities throughout the country, with only emergency rooms operating in some hospitals.

“We can’t continue like this, where every couple of days you hear they have kidnapped a doctor,” said Dr. Jessy Colimon Adrien, the head of the State University of Haiti Hospital. “And it’s not just doctors. They are grabbing teachers, they are grabbing lawyers, everyone.”

Adrien said that “for the moment we will continue to treat those who are already here,” inside the 400-bed hospital but “we aren’t taking new patients.”

The kidnapping of one of the hospital’s physicians, Dr. Jacques Pierre-Pierre, 76, on Tuesday, sent shock waves throughout the hospital, Adrien said, and added to the stress of the government healthcare workers who are just emerging from a months-long strike and are often confronted with violence from patients within the facility.

Pierre-Pierre is an orthopedist, former head of the orthopedics department, former acting executive director and current medical director of the hospital. Adrien said Pierre-Pierre is the third physician working at state university hospital who has been kidnapped.

Gael Dorsainvil, Pierre-Pierre’s son, said the news of his father’s kidnapping has been “devastating.”

His dad, Dorsainvil said, doesn’t have money and has sacrificed to help fellow Haitians, especially those without means to pay for medical care.

“He’s like another Mother Theresa in the medical field,” Dorsainvil said. “Ever since I can remember, he was taking care of anyone with a broken bone, putting a cast on them in the living room, the kitchen. He’s selfless. It’s unfortunate that a 76 year-old man who shows love to his country is in this situation and now this is how his country is showing love to him.”

Pierre-Pierre was abducted in front of a boutique in Port-au-Prince while running an errand after leaving the hospital, according to his family. His kidnapping followed that of Dr. Benetty Augustin, 44, a pediatrician who specializes in the care of children with epilepsy. She was on her way to work at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in the capital when she was taken at 6:30 a.m. May 5 just outside her home in the Laboule 12 neighborhood in Petionville.

Days after her kidnapping, her employer, St. Luke Foundation, announced the closure of both its pediatric hospital and another facility, St. Luke Hospital, to demand her release.

Augustin is still being held hostage even after an initial ransom was paid. The increased ransom demand, say family members who declined to disclose the amount, is too high for them. Also being held for ransom is a gynecologist, Clervil Reuben. He was reportedly taken while responding to a call from a patient.

The abductions have raised alarms in Haiti, where there is already limited access to healthcare.

“Doctors take the Hippocratic oath where they agree to always provide care to those who are sick,” Adrien said, “but now the environment has become hostile. Things have changed on us here…our arms have been cut off.”

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