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Haiti, Hemisphere's COVID Exception, Sees Alarming Spike — And Still Lacks Vaccines

 A Haitian hospital worker in Port-au-Prince carries an oxygen tank for COVID-19 patients this week.
Joseph Odelyn
A Haitian hospital worker in Port-au-Prince carries an oxygen tank for COVID-19 patients this week.

Haiti's COVID-19 case and death counts remain relatively low but much of that count has increased in the past month and the country has yet to receive vaccines.

Haiti has been the COVID-19 exception in Latin America and the Caribbean, with one of the region’s lowest per-capita case and death counts. But that’s suddenly changing — and the country is caught without vaccines.

The country has reported only 16,000 COVID-19 cases. That’s a tenth of the tally in nearby Cuba, which has roughly the same population as Haiti. But 15% of Haiti’s cases have come in just the past month. So have a fifth of its 342 COVID deaths.

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That’s an alarming spike for a country whose threadbare medical system is now challenged by Haiti’s economic collapse. Hospitals there report this week they’re so swamped by the sudden wave of COVID patients they’ve had to turn many away.

The Pan-American Health Organization in Washington D.C. said this week it will send urgent help to Haiti to increase testing and contact tracing to keep the surge from getting out of control.

Just as alarming is that Haiti has yet to receive any COVID-19 vaccines. Some 750,000 AstraZeneca doses were supposed to arrive last month from the international COVAX program. They were delayed by bureaucratic issues in Haiti as well as concerns about side effects and lack of necessary vaccine refrigeration in the country.

Haitian officials hope to receive about a fifth of those doses this month. The U.S. has pledged to donate doses this moth as well.

Haiti did see an earlier COVID spike last summer but cases did not proliferate as badly as feared. Health officials fear this time things could go differently.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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