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'A hospital is not a war zone': Haiti prime minister tours gang-ravaged medical facility

Jacqueline Charles and Johnny Fils-Aimé, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

The day after the Haitian police triumphantly announced they had reclaimed control of the largest public hospital after a four-month siege by powerful gangs, the country’s prime minister decried the destruction.

“A hospital is not a war zone,” Prime Minister Garry Conille said Tuesday while touring the battered grounds of the green-and-white facility not far from the presidential palace and the French embassy in Port-au-Prince. “Even under the worst circumstances, hospitals are protected.”

Conille, a gynecologist by training, walked the gang-ravaged premises of the Hospital of the State University of Haiti under heavy security. As he and Haiti National Police Chief Rameau Normil inspected the structure, Conille could not hide his shock as he pointed out the bullet holes riddling the walls and the toppled furnishings on the floor.

All were harsh reminders of the constant gun battles that have blanketed Port-au-Prince since Feb. 29 and made both the hospital and its adjacent, still-under-construction 534-bed replacement facility, off-limits.

“We will take back our spaces,” Conille said, reiterating his support for the Haitian police while promising to give the beleaguered force “everything it needs.”

On Monday, Normil announced a rare victory: Police, he said, had reclaimed the General Hospital, as it is commonly called, from gangs after successfully launching an operation the night before. He made the announcement while standing alongside the commander of the Kenya-led Multinational Security Support mission, Godfrey Otunge, in their first joint press conference.

The General Hospital is among dozens of medical facilities that stopped operating or were burned down after armed gangs united on Feb. 29 and launched deadly attacks to try to topple the previous government.

Located across the street from the presidential palace, a prime target of the gangs, the hospital was soon forced to close its doors and evacuate its patients. Meanwhile, the area surrounding it and its new replacement building had become a no-go zone.


Recalling his early days in Haiti before he went on to become a United Nations development specialist, Conille said the General Hospital used to receive around 1,500 patients a day. Nowadays it’s zero.

Badly destroyed in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Haiti’s largest public hospital faced it share of troubles even before the armed attacks. Still, staff and patients had long pinned their hopes on the new facility that the United States and French governments have been trying to build since 2010.

The French Agency for Development has provided nearly $44 million and the U.S. Agency for International Development $35 million, of which $10 million was paid out just two years ago toward the construction costs. Haiti, meanwhile, has disbursed $23 million of the $27 million it said it would provide. Despite the large investments, the fate of the facility is up in the air.

Among those who joined Conille on the visit Tuesday was Louis Gérald Gilles, one of the members of the newly named presidential council. France’s ambassador to Haiti, Fabrice Mauriès, is also hoping to visit the facility. Even before Conille and Gilles’ visit, the French embassy had requested a visit to the site for Mauriès and a representative of USAID to see what it will take to get the new facility up and running.

“We think that the next useful step is for an expert mission to be mandated on the spot in order to assess the situation and the conditions for the resumption of the work of the new General Hospital of Haiti,” a spokesperson for the French Agency for Development told the Miami Herald.


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