Humanitarian Health Action

The first moments after the earthquake by Dr. Henriette Chamouillet

22 January 2010

WHO Haiti country representative Dr Henriette Chamouillet
WHO response mobilized for Haiti quake

WHO Haiti country representative, Dr Henriette Chamouillet recounted her experience of the 12 January earthquake. "I was meeting with the Prime Minister, Minister of Health, and members of the health area at a private house and suddenly everything shakes. We were able to all leave the room safely and we waited until it had finished in the garden. All of the private houses were down, one meter high walls were down, everything was down. So I realised immediately how serious the quake was. I have felt earthquakes before, but I have never experienced one as strong as this."

WHO response in the first week

It wasn't long before she assessed just how serious was the quake's impact on the health of the country's people. A week on, WHO staff are playing many roles in the humanitarian response. WHO is:

WFP/ WHO logistics coordination for food and drugs transportations.
WHO/M. Tomaszek
WFP/ WHO logistics coordination for food and drugs transportations.
  • leading the health cluster response and chairing daily meetings of more than 50 health partners, including U.N. agencies, NGOs and other international relief providers.
  • adapting health guidelines and standardized tools for a range of emergency care issues such as mass casualty management, dead body handling and wound infection;
  • participating in a range of assessments, including health analyses and hospital assessments; and
  • searching for potential environmental hazards, including chemical leaks, at the harbour in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere that could pose a public health threat;
  • distributing medicines for more than 160,000 people;
  • assessing medical supply stocks and setting up satellite connections.
Health workers treating a injured child.
Working in difficult conditions

Conditions have been tough. Staff have flown into the neighbouring Dominican Republic and then driven overland into Haiti and onto Port-au-Prince. Before crossing the border, they squeeze as much food and water into the remaining space in their vehicles so to be as self-sustainable as possible. WHO staff are sleeping in tents and being woken, occasionally, to aftershocks.