Image of gang violence in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Extreme violence is affecting healthcare in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

A wave of political violence sweeps through Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince. This is regardless of the fact that the former prime minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, has resigned. Gangs have formed alliances to fight against the police, and the city of Port-au-Prince has become a battleground.

The effect of violence on healthcare in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Many healthcare facilities have stopped functioning completely or partially. This is because the insecurity prevents medical staff from going to work or because they lack crucial medical supplies. The situation traps people living in Haiti’s capital, subjecting them to suffering either as casualties in the violence or due to the virtual collapse of the healthcare system.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, A year in Pictures 2021

Here's what's happening in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

When the violence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, reached its highest peak at the end of February 2024, MSF stepped up to increase its medical capacity in order to be able to take care of the influx of wounded people. Sandra Lamarque, coordinator of OCB’s operations in Haiti, explains how the violence has affected the people of Port-au-Prince and what MSF has done to respond to it.

What is happening in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Dr Priscille Cupidon is a Medical Activity Manager in Haiti. She provides first-hand testimony on how violence is affecting health and healthcare workers in Haiti.

I am a doctor in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, hearing gunfire as armed groups and police battle for control of our city.

This kind of fighting began several years ago, but in recent weeks, it has become increasingly violent, like a war. On February 28, it was announced that elections could be postponed until August 2025. Armed civilian groups reacted by uniting against the government, attacking police stations, administrative offices, banks, port and airport facilities and other state institutions. This prevented the prime minister from returning to Haiti, given that our airports were closed.

The violence is now like gangrene, spreading and threatening us all. Throughout the city, many people have fled because their homes were burnt down or looted by groups that attacked their neighbourhoods. More and more areas of the city are emptying out as the conflict progresses. Tens of thousands of people have moved into schools, churches or sports fields in undignified conditions where they lose their privacy and become more vulnerable.

Image of gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Armed men exchange fire with police forces in the Bel Air district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 
Corentin Fohlen/Divergence

The situation in Port-au-Prince today

Others remain in homes that have become unlivable, exposed to crossfire and looting. Recent violence even made it more difficult to access drinking water in some neighbourhoods because water trucks could not resupply them.

The situation in Port-au-Prince today is a humanitarian crisis, and it demands an urgent response, especially for vital needs, including healthcare, water and sanitation.

I manage a mobile clinic from Doctors Without Borders that provides healthcare in some of the city's chronically violence-affected neighbourhoods. We see the direct and indirect effects of violence on the health of our patients. These include adults struggling to manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes and children with fevers and diarrhoea. Extreme stress often causes mental trauma or hypertension. Many people have skin infections due to a lack of water for hygiene.

Image of gang violence in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Extreme gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Since 28 February, Port-au-Prince has been under attack by armed groups fighting against law enforcement in Haiti. Fighting is taking place in every part of the city. Commercial flights are suspended, and the country is almost inaccessible. The insecurity, the violence we see, and the type of patients, the severity of the injuries we see clearly have a tangible impact on our emergency service.

Sexual and gender-based violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Our team visited a neighbourhood near the centre of the city on March 19, which we hadn't had access [to] since February 29. The medical needs in the area are very high and are only likely to grow now that health care is so limited. For example, we saw patients suffering from tuberculosis who do not feel safe to leave the neighbourhood for treatment due to conflicts and tension between different zones. Barricades and fighting across the city have since prevented our mobile clinic staff from going to work, leaving these patients in a very vulnerable situation.

The women we have seen in our mobile clinics in recent months are often survivors of violence, including rape. As a doctor and a woman, I can tell that many are afraid to talk about it because the threat is still in the community. Social stigma can also make survivors reluctant to come forward because they do not want their families and neighbours to know what happened to them. We do everything we can to make survivors feel safe when they confide in us, but many are already pregnant or have a sexually transmitted infection at that point. We accompany them to our main clinic for sexual violence.

Treating victims of violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
A patient shot in the foot during clashes between armed groups and police forces receives treatment in the operating room of the MSF hospital in Tabarre.
Réginald Louissaint Junior

Healthcare workers face violence in Haiti

For years, health professionals in Haiti have been working in a difficult environment. The country's deepening political and economic crises have left medical facilities with few resources. Our healthcare system is falling apart.

Like other professionals, healthcare workers have been individually targeted by violence as the situation has worsened. Doctors and nurses, including friends and colleagues, have left the country for the United States and elsewhere. Now, there aren't many of us left.

The violence is also preventing patients and staff from reaching medical facilities on a daily basis. Some hospitals, such as Haiti's State University Hospital, cannot function. Another university hospital, Saint-François de Sales, has been completely vandalized, and young doctors can no longer complete their training there. La Paix is the only public university hospital still in operation, but it is often overloaded and lacking in resources. Tragically, more women with high-risk pregnancies may die as a result.

MSF hospital Treating the victims of extreme violence in Cité Soleil hospital., Haiti
View of the MSF emergency room at Cité Soleil Hospital, Haiti. 
Réginald Louissaint Junior

Limited freedom of movement

Haiti's main port and airport are now closed, and the Dominican Republic has tightened restrictions on the country's border. Given the turmoil of recent weeks, the departure of professionals from Haiti, including doctors and other healthcare workers, could accelerate once travel becomes possible.

Those of us still in Haiti are doing our best to serve the community when we can, but we also need care, especially mental health support, because we are witnessing so much violence and cruelty.

We'd like to regain at least the serenity we had a few years ago. Today, we work, go home, and lock ourselves in a cage. I'm convinced that all my Haitian brothers and sisters will unite with me in saying that right now, we want to live our lives. It's a right we've lost.