The Falmouth-based nonprofit Konbit Sante is looking for ways to help colleagues in Haiti, where a 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Saturday killed hundreds of people and wounded thousands.

Executive Director Rupal Shah said the earthquake, which affected the southwestern part of the country, is far from Konbit Sante’s base of operations in Cap-Haitien. But Shah said she’s been in contact with former colleagues at St. Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs, where she worked in 2019.

Rupal Shah, executive director of the Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership Photo courtesy of Konbit Sante

“That hospital is closely located in the area where this earthquake occurred,” she said. “They mentioned that they are expecting patients to come in and are preparing to take them as needed.”

Shah said the nonprofit has not been sending any volunteers from Maine to Haiti during the pandemic, though she has visited twice this year. She said one staff member was in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Saturday, trying to reach family members who live near the affected area.

Konbit Sante was formed in 2001 to help develop a sustainable health care system in Haiti. The nonprofit partners with four area hospitals: Justinien University Hospital, Haitian Baptist Convention Hospital, Fort Saint Michel Health Center, and Unite de Lutte pour la Sante Health Center.

“We are closely in contact with all our partner facilities today to determine what we can do and how we can assist them and our neighbors and Haitian communities in the southwest,” Shah said Saturday, noting that they may be able to send supplies and funding, if needed.

On Sunday, she said Konbit Sante planned to meet Monday with its board of directors to formulate an earthquake response plan. The aid group can share more specifics about its plans after that meeting, she added.

Shah said that Haiti’s health care system struggles when there isn’t a crisis, and natural disasters like Saturday’s earthquake quickly overwhelm capacity.

“In a place like Haiti, when you’re already challenged with a health care system that’s constantly overburdened and there’s limited resources, this kind of crisis overburdens the community, the hospitals and even the (nongovernmental organizations) in the area,” she said.

It’s unlikely that Konbit Sante and its partner hospitals will receive any patients, since they are far from the affected area and travel is difficult. But Shah said she will remain in close contact with partners to find other ways to help.

“It would be hard for those patients to travel all that way,” she said.

Saturday’s earthquake, whose epicenter was about 75 miles west of Port-au-Prince, appears to have been stronger than the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck the capital in 2010, killing more than 200,000 people. The death toll from Saturday’s quake soared to at least 1,297 on Sunday, The Associated Press reported.

The earthquake comes as the country struggles to control the coronavirus pandemic and amid political unrest stemming from the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July. That context, along with a possible tropical storm bearing down on the Caribbean nation, could complicate relief efforts.

“The country is lacking that sort of leadership and response,” Shah said. 

But she noted that people of Haiti are known for coming together in times of crisis, including rival gangs and political protesters.

“At times like this, I feel that Haitian people are very kind, considerate and community-oriented,” Shah said. “I think everyone will come together.”


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