Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti’s political stalemate hurts the most vulnerable

Leonel Windi on crutches in a corridor of the general hospital in Port-au-Prince
Image caption Leonel Windi is supposed to rest, instead he is wandering the corridors on crutches

Leonel Windi is supposed to be lying still.

After a motorbike accident in January, he should be in traction to give his shattered leg a chance to heal.

Instead he wanders the halls of Port-au-Prince's general hospital on crutches, long pins protruding from his knee, in search of a doctor or nurse.

But with a national healthcare strike now in its third month, the only people making regular rounds on the wards are the preachers.

Rather than drugs, all they can offer are hymns, Bible passages and their particular brand of evangelical hope.

Deadly wait

Some patients need more than just prayers.

Image caption Preachers are the only ones doing the rounds in this hospital

Sharing the dank, humid ward is Guinel, also injured in a traffic accident earlier this year.

His toes are fast turning black and he is in danger of losing his leg unless he is attended to soon.

"I can't sympathise with the strike at all because I'm directly affected by it," he says.

"It's not only me. There are people who have died in the hospital waiting to be seen."

'No choice'

One of the strike leaders, Dr Jhon Evenst, admits that as a physician it is hard to turn away patients.

Image caption Jhon Evenst says the situation is dire

With pay and conditions so dire, though, he says the medical staff had no choice but to stage a walkout.

"There is no water with which to wash our hands or in the lavatories," he tells me in fluent Spanish, which he learnt while studying medicine in Cuba.

"There are rats and swarms of insects all over the hospital. [The strike] is also about our security. Sometimes people come in with guns and demand we treat them."

Dr Evenst says they gave the authorities a 90-hour deadline to response to their problems but to no avail.

"We sent our complaints to the finance ministry, to the parliament, to the president's office, to all the government institutions to acknowledge our poor working conditions."

"They didn't do anything," he adds, resignedly showing us around the empty wards and shuttered treatment units.

'A country in crisis'

The strike, like the wider healthcare crisis, comes at a turbulent time in Haitian politics.

The last presidential election in October 2015 was considered so riddled with fraud that a special commission recommended quashing the result and holding a fresh vote in October of this year.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jocelerme Privert says he is staying on for the good of Haiti

In the meantime, the country's interim president, Jocelerme Privert, has decided, seemingly arbitrarily, to stay on beyond his 120-day term limit.

Lawmakers from other factions say that only adds to the uncertainty.

But Mr Privert insists he is doing it for the good of Haiti's political stability.

"My ambition is not about spending 120 days as president but to organize free and fair elections that can end the electoral crisis once and for all," he says, speaking in the presidential palace which was rebuilt following the devastating 2010 earthquake which left about 200,000 people dead and nearly a million homeless.

Mr Privert says he will happily stand down if ordered to do so by the parliament but argues that another political vacuum would be even more detrimental.

"Haiti is a country in crisis," he says of the task ahead.

"We have an environmental crisis, a political and economic crisis, and a crisis involving lack of access to clean water. These are not simple problems that you can solve in 120 days."

Health risks

In downtown Port-au-Prince, in the shadow of the capital's ruined cathedral, the extent of the country's poor sanitation six years after the earthquake is laid bare.

Image caption Many families still live in huts six years after the earthquake destroyed much of the country

Families gather around a burst water pipe to fill up buckets for washing and bathing.

In the street, rubbish collection is sporadic or non-existent with piles of garbage rotting in the heat.

Worse still, the rains have created large puddles and pools of sewage, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes which carry Zika and other viruses.

Some 65,000 people still live in the same temporary shacks built in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

Joset Magali is one of them. She lives in a hastily-constructed wooden hut with her six children.

Image caption Joset Magali's home has been marked for demolition

Outside many of the makeshift homes, hers included, the word "demolish" has been written in Creole.

The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations have supplied some funds, a one-off payment of around $350 (£263) per family, so those still living in the tent camps can move out.

In the case of Ms Magali, that barely covers her immediate debts and she is unsure of where she would go once the bulldozers arrive.

Her plight, though, is unlikely to feature high in the electoral campaign.

Image caption Supporters of Jude Celestin hope the next election will not be marred by fraud

Supporters of one of the main candidates, Jude Celestin, say he was denied victory in the October 2015 polls.

They turned out in droves to cheer when he registered his candidacy for the fresh polls and to send a message that they will not tolerate any further fraud.

"People are watching them [the electoral authorities], we are watching them, we're watching everything," Mr Celestin told the BBC outside the electoral authorities' offices.

"We won't just give them a blank cheque. It will be different this time around."

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