“It’s sad, but there are times when you don’t have a choice: a dead doctor doesn’t treat anymore. The blunt but unstoppable statement by Benoît Vasseur, MSF’s Haiti operations director, illustrates the bewilderment that befalls members of the NGO who are facing extreme gang violence in this Caribbean country.
MSF announced on Friday January 27 that it was suspending its activities at a hospital in the town of Carrefour, west of the capital Port-au-Prince, following a dramatic incident the previous day. Gunmen who burst into the hospital “herded a gunshot wounded patient out of the emergency room and executed him in cold blood with a bullet to the head,” the NGO said in a statement.
The facts that happened in the middle of the afternoon represent the second tragedy of this kind in less than six months at this hospital, which is located in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, near areas completely controlled by gangs will.
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“From the moment we cannot guarantee the safety of either our patients or our teams, we cannot continue working,” Benoît Vasseur told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Almost 800,000 people affected by free care
The NGO has been present in the Caribbean country for more than thirty years and is often the only health service for hundreds of thousands of Haitians who cannot afford the fees of private facilities. The cessation of MSF services at that hospital means nearly 800,000 people will be without quality and free emergency care, Mr Vasseur said.
The armed gangs, which control more than half of Haitian territory, have been using their growing power to carry out a series of heinous kidnappings and executions in recent days. On Wednesday, members of armed gangs killed six police officers in a mass attack on a police station in the north of the country, provoking a demonstration of angry police officers.
Tires burn during a police demonstration in Port-au-Prince on January 26, 2023. RICHARD PIERRIN / AFP
And health centers are not places of refuge. Four of the officers who died Wednesday were injured earlier in the day and then “pulled out” by gang members from the clinic where they were being treated “to execute them,” police said.
Despite this renewed outbreak of violence, MSF has no plans to leave the country for the time being. “In Haiti, we continue to enjoy excellent acceptance among the population and among the various actors, and thanks to this we manage to work,” explains Benoît Vasseur.
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