A street vendor crosses a street that is empty due...

A street vendor crosses a street that is empty due to residents staying home amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, April 8, 2024. Credit: AP/Odelyn Joseph

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Fresh gunfire erupted Tuesday in downtown Port-au-Prince, forcing aid workers to halt urgently needed care for thousands of Haitians.

Weeks of gang violence have forced some 18 hospitals to stop working and caused a shortage of medical supplies as Haiti's biggest seaport and main international airport remain closed, warned aid workers with The Alliance for International Medical Action, a Senegal-based humanitarian organization.

“The situation is really challenging and affects our movement on a daily basis,” said Antoine Maillard, the organization’s medical coordinator based in Port-au-Prince.

The gang violence has driven about 17,000 people in the capital from their homes. Many are crammed into abandoned schools and other buildings where they often share a single toilet.

Maillard said aid workers were able to reach one of the camps for displaced people on Tuesday, “but there were too many gunshots to provide support.”

He said the health crisis is worsening. It is difficult to find basic medications including antibiotics and antidiarrheals since gang violence has shuttered suppliers. The limited medication available has doubled and even tripled in price.

That means Haitians like 65-year-old Denise Duval are unable to buy needed medication or see a doctor.

National Police patrol an intersection amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince,...

National Police patrol an intersection amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, April 8, 2024. Credit: AP/Odelyn Joseph

“My health right now is not good,” she said, adding that she has high blood pressure and often feels dizzy. “From hearing gunfire all the time, my heart beats a lot.”

Duval is taking care of three grandchildren whose mother migrated to the neighboring Dominican Republic in search of work. The mother sends money when she can, but Duval said it's not enough to buy medication and support the children at the same time.

“We’re living day-by-day and hoping that something will change,” she said as she sat outside her home and washed dishes in a bucket.

Gunfire still echoes daily throughout Port-au-Prince, though the gang violence has somewhat subsided in certain areas since gunmen began attacking key government infrastructure on Feb. 29.

People take cover from gunfire during clashes between police and...

People take cover from gunfire during clashes between police and gangs in the Champs de Mars area next to the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, April 8, 2024. Credit: AP/Odelyn Joseph

Key roads remain impassible, preventing Haitians like 52-year-old Nadine Prosper from reaching one of the few operating hospitals.

Prosper lost her lower left leg in Haiti's 2010 devastating earthquake, and she’s unable to get the medication she needs.

“I’m still suffering,” she said as she walked back to her house with a cane in one hand and groceries in the other. “When the pain comes, if I don’t have painkillers, that’s the hardest part.”

Haiti’s largest public hospital, the State University Hospital, is among those closed. Located in downtown Port-au-Prince, it has been seized and looted by gangs that also pillaged nearby pharmacies.

While some private clinics and hospitals are operating, they remain inaccessible to the majority of people in a country where 60% of the population earn less than $2 a day.

Dr. Priscille Cupidon, medical activity manager for Doctors Without Borders, said the ongoing fighting resembles a war.

“The country’s deepening political and economic crises have left medical facilities with few resources,” she wrote in an essay published Tuesday. “Our health care system is falling apart.”

Cupidon, who runs a mobile health clinic, said an MSF team visited a neighborhood near the center of Port-au-Prince late last month that it hadn’t been able to access since Feb. 29.

“The medical needs in the area are very high and are only likely to grow now that health care is so limited,” Cupidon said.

Gangs are estimated to control 80% of Port-au-Prince. But ALIMA’s Carlotta Pianigiani said the presence of armed groups is affected all of the city's population.

The violence forced Prime Minister Ariel Henry to announce last month that he would resign once a transitional presidential council is created.

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