One of the headlines on Drudge reads:
CNN's Gupta steps in for fleeing doctors...

The actual headline at CNN says: Security concerns cause doctors to leave hospital, quake victims, but the URL says “haiti.abandoned.patients”.

From the story

Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after a Belgian medical team evacuated the area, saying it was concerned about security.

The decision left CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta as the only doctor at the hospital to get the patients through the night.

Actually, if you read the rest 0f the story, you will discover that the doctors and nurses didn’t “walk away”: they were ordered out by their superiors, who were worried about roving gangs of thugs attacking the clinic/hospital, and that they would be killed for lack of enough security personnel.

The telling part of the story is this:

Sandra Pierre, a Haitian who has been helping at the makeshift hospital, said the medical staff took most of the supplies with them.

This is even more shocking: Because it means locals who are there won’t have medical supplies to use for their fellow Haitians.

CNN stressed that Dr. Gupta was there helping, and God bless him.

But could I put in a word for reality?

Been there, done that. Actually, done that, twice.

The dirty little secret about Haiti is that it has satanic gangs. Pat Robertson was “over the top” for blaming God for the earthquake, because the problem is not God but Satan. The dirty little secret is that politicians in Haiti used the “negative” side of African religion to control gangs so they could stay in power.

Like most religions, African traditional religion is about ceremonies to God and about living a moral life: but if you err, you get sick, so a nganga will hold a ceremony to placate the spirits to cure you; Most of African religion is positive, but like the “black mass” or the occult ceremonies of Himmler’s SS, ruthless people who seek power believe they can use negative “magic” to get power.

I’m old enough to remember the Duvaliers, Papa Doc and Baby Doc.

e. 1958 – After an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him in June, Duvalier takes steps to consolidate his position…

With chief aide Clément Barbot, he organises the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (Volunteers for National Security), or Tonton Macoutes (Bogeymen), a private militia estimated to number 9,000-15,000 that will be used to terrorise and murder opponents.

Recruits are drawn initially from the slums of Port-au-Prince. They receive no salary, relying instead on protection rackets and crime to support themselves. The Tonton Macoutes act as Duvalier’s front-line security force and as a balance to the political power of the armed forces.

Read the whole thing. From there things go downhill. But you get the idea. Duvalier not only recruited local thugs and gangs to intimidate and kill those who opposed him, but he used the beliefs in witchcraft to keep ordinary people in fear of him and his gangs.

Fast forward to a Haiti that is seeking to reestablish decent governance, with the help of UN Peacekeepers, a multinational group that includes almost a hundred from the Philippines. From a NYTimes article from 2007.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 5 — For years, street gangs have run Haiti right alongside the politicians. With a disbanded army and a corrupted wreck of a police force, successive presidents have either used the gangs against political rivals or just bought them off… “We’re taking back Port-au-Prince centimeter by centimeter,” said Lt. Col. Abdesslam Elamarti, a peacekeeper from Morocco. “We’re pressing these gangs so the population can live in peace.”

Since the gangs are locals, and often connected with the powerful who run the neighborhoods, and who are able to fight back not only with weapons but with human shields whose deaths can be used to manipulate NGO’s and the press when “innocent civilians” are hurt, you can see the problem that they face. Peacekeeping has not been an easy job, but the result has been to maintain some semblence of peace in that poor country…until the earthquake hit, and destroyed the housing of the peacekeepers and UN staff, and killing some of them.

So the Philippine Inquirer reports that our soldiers with American troops are trying to rescue some trapped in the rubble of the hotel that housed the UN and a nearby supermarket, while other peacekeepers are patroling to keep them safe from “looters”.

But there are “looters” (i.e. desperate people who may hit you with a stick if you stop them from getting food for their starving family) and there are “LOOTERS” (well armed gangs with automatic weapons who are used to stealing and killing without being punished, and who see the chaos as an opportunity to take high priced items to make them rich).

A few armed guards will stop the first; against the second, it takes soldiers who know how to shoot, and a place of safety for civilians so they don’t get caught in the crossfire.

So why would such looters hurt those in a clinic? Well, lots of stuff there to steal…first of all, there are drugs, including narcotics, at such field hospitals. There are electric fans, scissors, and medical equipment that can be stolen and “sold back” at high prices to hospitals and clinics that desperately need them. And then there are lower priced items that can easily be sold on the black market, from hospital gowns to blankets to cots and furniture. Such gangs will steal everything not tied down, and not care if it can be used. And if you are in the way, you can be killed or worse (and if the gangs are high on drugs, heaven help you if they decide to kill you just for fun).

When I say “been there, don that”, the reason is that I worked in two different African countries, and in both of them, I was sent home when anarchy erupted, but before the hospitals were attacked. But I know others who stayed, and were killed by such looters or robbers.

A dead physician can’t treat patients, and leaving medical supplies to be looted by thugs only endangers the patients who are unable to evacuate the hospital, because it means more looters will be attracted to steal, and if nothing is there, they will take their anger out on the people.

So God bless Dr. Gupta,who has a history of taking off his reporter’s cap and putting on his surgery cap to save lives when he was reporting in Iraq.

But one wonders what CNN is thinking. These thugs don’t respect a CNN badge, and unless they came with their own well trained bodyguards, putting him in danger isn’t helping people, it’s endangering one of their employees to get a headline.

So maybe General Honore comment to CNN was taken out of context:

“I find this astonishing these doctors left,” he said. “People are scared of the poor.”

Uh, no. They aren’t afraid of the poor.

They are afraid of the well armed and dangerous gangs that run the slums and terrorize the neighborhoods, and who are ruthless enough to kill physicians and nurses without pity.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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