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Haiti is in agony; the earthquake has destroyed its buildings, homes, lives. But with regard to health care, there wasn’t much to destroy in the first place. Even before the quake hit the capital, leaving its hospitals “abandoned or destroyed” the country’s medical infrastructure was in shambles.

Three fourths of the population had no access to any kind of health care as of 2008, according to the International Crisis Group. There are no emergency wards to speak of in the country, and only one doctor for every 3,000 citizens, compared with seven docs per 3,000 people in the U.S.

Private hospitals charge fees that put decent medical care out of reach for everyone but the Haitian elite, and public clinics, according to an April report from Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF), “are often plagued by management problems, strikes, and shortages of staff, drug, and medical supplies.”

It’s no surprise, then, that despite Haiti’s recent strides toward a more stable society, the country had what MSF’s operation director called in April an “immediate public health crisis” long before the quake.

The earthquake has added traumatic injuries and their aftereffects to Haiti’s litany of woes. Irwin Redlener, director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, says the most immediate concerns will be severe head and chest injuries, but that doctors will also have to carefully manage all wounds, even small ones, to avoid infection and septic shock, a challenging task in hastily constructed tent clinics that may be running short on antiseptics.

Any survivors pulled from the rubble in the next 24 hours are likely to be weaker than those rescued yesterday; they will be dehydrated, especially with temperatures in Port-au-Prince topping 90 degrees.If victims are also suffering from “crush injuries” after being struck or trapped under falling debris, they will be at risk of kidney failure—damaged muscles release proteins that are toxic to the organs—and in need of extra hydration to prevent it.

But sterile saline may be hard to come by in a country where most people don’t have access to clean drinking water under normal conditions.Newsweek

Linda Young is an award-winning journalist who has been writing and speaking about videogames for a decade, and talking about Health for over a quarter of a century. A veteran consumer and Health journalist, she has worked on numerous leading magazines and websites, and is a regular pundit across radio and TV and in the national press.

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