PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Public hospitals that cater to Haiti's poor are shuttered or barely functioning due to walkouts by nurses, janitors, porters and other personnel months after the troubled country endured a lengthy and punishing strike by resident doctors.
Alisma Roseta Georges, leader of Haiti's health workers union at the General Hospital compound in Port-au-Prince's crowded downtown, said Thursday that the syndicate's 4,690 nurses and non-medical personnel can no longer get by on "starvation wages." Waves of staff walkouts have spread to numerous other government-run hospitals in recent days.
"If the government doubles the salaries we are ready to stop our strike," Georges told reporters at the capital's biggest hospital where conditions are never good but are worsening quickly.
Haiti's health ministry has told union leaders it cannot afford higher wages after resolving a strike with resident doctors in September. Calls to senior health ministry officials went unanswered and hospital administrators were in a meeting and didn't immediately provide comment.
Wages for nurses and non-medical personnel haven't seen an increase for a decade, union officials say. Porters and janitors make roughly $162 a month while nurses get just over $300.
This is the latest strike to cripple Haiti's severely under-resourced health system that struggles to cope during the best of times. Resident doctors who went on strike for nearly five months last year said systemic changes are needed for a public health system that has long been unable to give adequate care to many.
But those changes have not been prioritized. At the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, hallways are now marked with fresh graffiti criticizing the health ministry. The floors of nearly empty wards are stained with dried blood and littered with soiled bandages. Stranded patients are watched over by relatives and missionaries rather than medical personnel.
Suzanne Louis, who was brought to the hospital last month for a surgery after getting hit by a car, is losing hope in a room where she is the only patient left. The impoverished woman with no close relatives tries to keep her bandaged leg clean the best she can since the walkout by nurses.
"I don't sleep because I am in so much pain," she said, her right leg twisted as she lay on a cot.
When strikes hit, clinics run by NGOs and religious groups are forced to treat more patients who can't afford private care. When they have patients who are seriously ill and need inpatient care, they have major problems finding a hospital that will accept them.
"Haiti's poor — which is just about everyone — are the ones who suffer the most when the public hospitals close," said Dr. John Carroll, an American who mainly works in a pediatric clinic in the desperately impoverished Cite Soleil neighborhood.
Eveyln Jedeon brought her 16-month-old daughter, Leyla, to the Cite Soleil clinic run by the Daughters of Charity because the public hospital by her home north of Port-au-Prince was not taking any patients.
"I have to travel here to get medical care for my daughter. That's just the way it is," she said with a shrug.
David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd