Two medical relief organizations in the Boston area that serve as lifelines for the people in Haiti are struggling to keep their operations running there amidst widespread chaos in Port au Prince and beyond.

Boston-based Partners In Health, with operations in Haiti since 1980, and Health Equity International, located in Newton, which has run St. Boniface Hospital in southern Haiti for forty years, have reached out to the U.S. government and the United Nations for assistance.

“Our facilities rely on diesel fuel for generators because they're not on the electrical grid,” said Dr. Sheila Davis, CEO for Partners In Health, generally known by its initials, PIH. Fuel supplies to all 17 PIH medical facilities, she explained, have been severely disrupted by the ongoing gang violence in Haiti. “So although we have some solar, it's not enough to support the big hospital, for example. And so that's been a huge problem because we don't have fuel. We can't have electricity for oxygen to run anesthesia machines, for everything in the hospital. So we tried to reduce services and started to ration fuel.”

St. Boniface Hospital, located 80 miles south of Haiti’s ravaged capital, has been similarly disrupted, said Dr. Wilfrid Cadet, Health Equity's chief medical advisor. He says the facility in Haiti is running short of key medical supplies.

“We had a call with our team, in the hospital, and the hospital director was mentioning a few items that are missing, especially heparin [an anticoagulant]. I mean, drugs that are needed for the operating rooms, antibiotics, antihypertensive drugs,” Cadet said.

A week after the forced resignation of Haiti’s appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry, chaos on the island continues with pitched battles in the streets between gangs and vigilantes, making travel to and within the island nearly impossible.

“Before, it was easy and we had staff traveling and volunteers traveling from Newton to visit our operations in Haiti almost every month. But with this current situation, there hasn't been any traveling. It is not safe right now for people to travel to this area because of the unpredictability of the security,” Cadet said.  

Like Health Equity International, most of Partners In Health medical staff are Haitians living in Haiti. Many have been trained at a teaching facility established by the late founder and director Paul Farmer after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. In the past, the all Haitian staff proved critical in responding to large scale emergencies, including a subsequent earthquake in 2018. But Davis said violence and the threat of kidnapping have severely limited travel for Haitians from one PIH medical facility to the next. “It's hugely impacted safety on the road," she said. Many Haitians are stuck in their homes, Davis said, and others are crowding into PIH's hospital emergency rooms suffering from burns, gun shots, and ordinary illnesses.

“Even if it was completely safe, which it's not,” she added, ”our ability to procure fuel is a huge, huge problem.” Davis has asked the United Nations to play a more active role in facilitating the flow of fuel into the country and desperately needed medical supplies. PIH and others insist that an “air bridge” from the neighboring Dominican Republic into Haiti would be the most efficient means now for delivering supplies.

“Our hope is that the UN air bridge and humanitarian corridor would work hand in hand and certainly be supporting each other, but right now we don't have that. So we're not able to get supplies across the border. We're not able to really to move, not just fuel, but these really essential, meds and commodities,” said Davis.

By contrast, Health Equity’s St. Boniface Hospital, is too far from the Dominican Republic for an air bridge to be useful, Cadet said.

“We have not purchased, supplies from the Dominican Republic, because where we are located, it's quite a challenge to bring goods or any supplies from the Dominican Republic.”

Cadet said his medical team in Haiti is trying to purchase as much as possible from local merchants. "Even though the price that we have to pay, as you would imagine, in such conditions, has basically quadrupled.”

Both of the Boston-area non-profits said they are experiencing a major surge in patients seeking care in their facilities due to hunger. The United Nation’s is warning of the possibility of famine in Haiti as the situation on the ground deteriorates.

The PIH model for working in Haiti has been to partner with the Haitian Health Ministry, international NGO’s, and other entities, to provide for the people of that nation. But Davis said her organization is not working with the gangs that now control the nation’s airports, roads, and many government facilities.

We don't at this point," she said. "We support health care for whoever comes in front of us, but we have no affiliation or work with gangs that is formal or informal.”

But both Partners In Health and Health Equity International have reached out to Haitians in the Boston area for funds to keep facilities running in Haiti. Said Davis, “ I think obviously raising funds is huge. The fact that fuel was $5 a gallon, now it's $10 a gallon. Bags of rice, you know, the prices are so high. So certainly the Haitian community helping support us financially has been huge.”