Haiti: A hospital in containers built to last

October 16, 2010

Haiti: A hospital in containers built to last © Ludovic Beauger/MSF

The town of Léogâne, which was closest to the epicentre of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, has a brand new hospital. The last patients were transferred to the prefabricated containers in September, the one remaining action to be completed was the inaugural ceremony, but now it’s done. Representatives from the Haitian prime minister, the Ministries of Health and Planning attended the ceremony and visited the hospital. MSF Switzerland’s President Abiy Tamrat also travelled to Haiti to attend.

Following the devastating 12 January 2010 earthquake MSF teams were treating patients under canvas sheets and tents. Whilst the new structure was being built staff and patients had to be moved twice. The containers offered the possibility of being put together rapidly. It will also be possible to adapt this structure according to the needs.

“We had to finish this as quickly as possible before the cyclone season. Normally it takes a year to complete such a project,” explains MSF’s logistics operational manager Guillaume Queyras. In the end it took five months from start to finish.

The containers offer a 1,700 m² surface, have a 120-bed capacity and include two operation theatres, a radiology service and seven consultation rooms… The hospital cost 2 million dollars to build and operating costs, including the salaries of 400 staff, are estimated at seven to eight million dollars a year.

Child births and road traffic accidents

In spite of the havoc wrought by the earthquake the daily routine returned in the Léogâne region. From March onwards admissions recorded by MSF are no longer directly linked to the earthquake. Once roads were cleared, road traffic resumed and there were traffic accidents again. “We see three to four road accident victims every day. People travel a lot by motorcycle, therefore injuries are very serious. When a coach is involved we have dozens of injured,” explains MSF’s head of mission in Léogâne, Stéphane Reynier de Montlaux.

However, child births and related complications are at the core of MSF’s activities. “They make up 80% of emergency admissions,” says Stéphane Reynier de Montlaux. The Léogâne hospital treats also victims of sexual violence and has a family planning service.

“This hospital is seen as a blessing by the population,” says the head of mission, “before the earthquake and our arrival here, the region had been two years without any health structure. There was a private clinic in Léogâne, but in spite of huge needs it went bankrupt. Not surprising when one knows that 70% of the Haitian population lives with less than two dollars a day and that a caesarean section costs 125 dollars, for the medical act alone.”

Handover to the Haitian authorities?

The hospital’s useful life is estimated to be five years, ten if well maintained. MSF is hoping that the Haitian authorities will take over the containers or build a hospital on the same site. “We held informal talks with the government. There is interest, but negotiations are just starting and we will insist for care to remain free,” says Stéphane Reynier de Montlaux.

The hospital built by Médecins Sans Frontières in Léogâne within five months was inaugurated on Friday 8 October. Haitian officials attended the ceremony.

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