By Evens Sanon and Danica
(AP) — Ever since the pandemic
began, Haiti had perplexed
experts with seemingly
low infection and death rates
from COVID-19 despite its rickety
public health system, a total
lack of vaccines and a widespread
disdain for safety measures like
masks and distancing.
That is no longer the case.
The few Haitian hospitals
treating COVID cases have
been so swamped in recent days
that they report turning away
patients, while plans to open
another hospital to treat the
infected have been delayed.
Official figures remain relatively
low for a nation of more
than 11 million people: Just 2,271
cases and 62 deaths have been
recorded over the past month
in government data collected by
Johns Hopkins University. A total
of 15,700 cases and more than
330 deaths have been reported
since early last year.
But experts are united in saying
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those figures miss the true
scale of what they say is the largest
spike in cases since the new
coronavirus first landed.
The government declared a
health emergency on May 24
and imposed a curfew and safety
measures — though few Haitians
appear to be following
them. Most shun, or can’t afford,
face masks and it’s nearly impossible
to keep a distance while
shopping in bustling marketplaces
or riding the crowded,
colorful buses known as tap taps
that most Haitians rely on to get
“There is no time to waste,”
said Carissa Etienne, director
of the Pan American Health
Organization, which is working
with the government to scale
up testing to identify and isolate
infected people _ a difficult task
in a place where few think they
can afford to be sick.
Sanorah Valcourt, a 27-yearold
mother and hairstylist, said
she felt sick for for two weeks last
month with a fever and symptoms
including loss of taste. But
she didn’t get tested, or even take
measures such as wearing face
masks she finds uncomfortable.
“I didn’t feel well enough to
hop on a tap tap and spend hours
at a hospital to get tested,” she
The lack of cases early this
year had led authorities to reduce
the number of beds available for
COVID patients to about 200 —
more than half of those at the
nonprofit St. Luke Foundation
for Haiti in the capital of Portau
But by early this month,
that clinic was at capacity and
announced it was turning away
“Many people are dying on
arrival in ambulances,” the foundation
said. “We have received
many nuns as patients, a sure
sign (COVID-19) is in the poorest
Marc Edson Augustin, medical
director of the St. Luke hospital,
said he’s especially worried
about the deaths he has seen
among those aged 17 to 22, and
that groups of up to seven people
Customers wearing protective face masks as a precaution
against the spread of the new coronavirus, talk with a
vendor in a street market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday,
June 5, 2021. Associated Press/Joseph Odelyn
are showing up at the same time
seeking treatment for COVID.
“The situation is real, and we
want to tell people that the situation
is getting worse,” he said.
“We’re working to keep people
alive as much as possible.”
Haiti’s Health Ministry had
planned to have another 150 beds
elsewhere for COVID-19 patients,
but that effort was delayed. Meanwhile,
Bruno Maes, representative
in Haiti for UNICEF, said
the children’s agency is working
to help hospitals get oxygen and
Haiti fights large COVID-19
spike as it awaits vaccines
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