A dire picture is being painted of the health situation in Dominica in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, with one senior medical doctor warning that the pace of relief needs to be stepped up immediately in order to avoid a humanitarian crisis on the storm-battered Eastern Caribbean island of approximately 73, 000 people.
During the passage of the storm between Monday night and Tuesday morning, the main medical facility – The Princess Margaret Hospital – suffered major infrastructural damage. Maria also knocked out the island’s power and water supply systems, with Dr Brian Charles, who is a part of a Barbados Defence Force emergency response team on the ground lending assistance in Roseau, also expressing serious concern that up to late Thursday there was no real national emergency response system to speak of.
“The thing about it is that we can’t move in personnel or supplies without the national emergency operations centre coordinating it. It makes no sense having people come from France, from the surrounding islands and everybody comes here and nobody knows where they’re going. You don’t know who they are, you don’t know what skillset they have, and if they come and they can’t work, it is a waste of time,” he told Barbados TODAY, adding that “the first thing really is that the national emergency operations centre needs to be functioning and functioning well. And that is why we came in”. With the hospital badly damaged, Dr Charles said another priority was to move patients out of the building and get them to a proper shelter.
“There is no operating room, there is no lab facility, there is no blood bank, the emergency room is severely understaffed and there are tonnes of people with trauma.
“At this point in time there is no electricity, which needs to be dealt with. They have a generator but [it] cannot supply the whole hospital because of the damage to the hospital, so only pockets within the hospital have electricity supply and the other issue with power supply by the generator is that fuel is scarce,” the Dominica-born medical doctor told Barbados TODAY, while explaining that looting was partly to blame for the fuel shortage.
Dr Charles, who is the managing director at Sandy Crest Medical Centre in Barbados, also expressed concern that in the wake of the storm the island was without vital medication. Therefore, he said, urgent arrangements needed to be made to airlift patients in critical condition out the island.
“The dialysis unit has been destroyed. We are to airlift dialysis patients from Roseau and Portsmouth over to Martinique. The French have been very helpful and they have assured us the dialysis patients will be accommodated and be treated.”
Dr Charles also reported there were a number of critically ill patients, five of whom were in the emergency room up until Thursday awaiting help.
Of those five, Dr Charles said he was particularly concerned about the fate of a young man, who had suffered trauma as a result of a fall.
“He needs to be medevac into an intensive care situation. We need to investigate him,” he told Barbados TODAY.
So far 15 deaths have been confirmed with at least 20 other people reported missing and presumed dead following Maria’s debilitating onslaught that has forced authorities to declare a state of emergency.
However, in the midst of the horror, Dr Charles suggested that all was not lost with “little pockets of health” still working even though he suggested that what was left of island’s health system was severely stretched.
“The doctors and nurses who were at the hospital during the storm were still there up to [Wednesday] afternoon. Two days afterwards . . . they need to leave. They need to check on their personal properties, they need to check on their families, they need to be able to get relief because they are no use to anyone after such a long period of time,” he said.