Catholic aid agencies mobilize to respond to Haiti quake victims

September Online


Several Catholic agencies already working in Haiti are rushing medical and humanitarian support to victims of the earthquake that struck a southwestern region on Aug. 14.

Catholic Relief Services

Workers with Catholic Relief Services hand off supplies to Haitians just days after the Aug. 14 earthquake that killed hundreds of people and left thousands homeless in the Caribbean nation.

The U.S. Agency for International Development reported five days after the 7.2-magnitude quake that almost 2,200 people were known to be dead and more than 12,000 injured. The agency said about 130,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 2.2 million people in the impoverished Caribbean nation of 11.3 million were somehow impacted by the disaster.

Kevin Kostic, director of donor relations at Catholic Relief Services, said his organization has teams on the ground that are providing medical supplies, food, hygiene products and other needed items.

Longer term, he said, the agency will be supplying tarps and corrugated iron sheeting to help rebuild housing in the areas devastated by the quake. He noted that in some places the temblor caused landslides and damaged roads and bridges.

"Things have been a challenge, frankly, to be able to get out to the various areas," he said.

Kostic was among several representatives of relief and support agencies who discussed how their organizations are responding and how others can help during a group call about the disaster on Aug.  18 arranged by Bruce Compton, CHA's senior director, global health.

Dianne Jean-Francois, country director for Haiti with the Catholic Medical Mission Board, spoke from Haiti during the call. She said her organization responded to the earthquake zone immediately with medical supplies and medical workers to treat the injured and to support local medical facilities.

Jean-Francois said the quake hit in a region that has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic Medical Mission Board plans to partner with Haiti's Ministry of Health on a campaign about the need for vaccinations, she said, because while the nation has received about 500,000 doses of vaccine, only about 20,000 people have been vaccinated.

The earthquake has exacerbated the despair in the distressed nation, the relief workers said. In addition to the pandemic, Haiti has been reeling from the political instability created by the assassination on July 7 of its president. A portion of the road to the quake zone from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince is under gang control.

Rachel Ross, chief development officer of Health Equity International said her group is caring for quake victims at its St. Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti, which is near the epicenter of the quake. The organization also is working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to expand surgical services elsewhere and to bring in supplies such as medications and equipment.

“We are really trying to lead the charge on supply chain and procuring all of these necessary supplies and also getting them to the patients who need them,” Ross said.

Camille Grippon, system director for global ministries at Bon Secours Mercy Health, said her health system is working with several partners in the United States and in Haiti to get supplies to the quake region.

"Our primary focus is speed right now," she said. "We know that if we sit on these supplies too long, they're really going to be rendered useless."

Several of the agency representatives said that the need for assistance in Haiti is great and support for their efforts is welcome. They urged, however, that donors send only cash or aid that has been specifically requested.

They noted that sending supplies that haven't been requested can clog up the system for distributing needed items and create waste. "Obviously we don't want to do any harm," Grippon noted.

Compton pointed out that USAID has a list of organizations that are responding to the Haiti disaster posted on its website. He also urged potential donors to check out the disaster resources section of CHA's website for advice on how best to assist in global emergencies.



Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.