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Health officials fan out to identify needs in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - How do you find out what the Haitian people really need now, nearly three weeks after the earthquake? You ask them.

Three-person teams, each including at least one member who speaks Creole and French, are fanning out to 152 sites across the country this week, asking a long series of questions to local health and government officials. When they are done, they hope to have a clearer picture of the food, shelter, water, sanitation and health-sector needs of the Haitian population. That's the intent of a weeklong project run by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is an experiment in another way, too. The data are being collected on hand-held computers such as PDAs, as well as on paper forms marked with pencils. Until fairly recently, disaster responders relied on their senses, and their common sense, to identify problems.

Meanwhile, Haiti's government has detained at least nine Americans on suspicion of trying to take 33 children into the Dominican Republic without authorization, Haiti's communications minister said.

Sean Lankford of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, told The Associated Press Saturday that his wife and 18-year-old daughter are among 10 Americans taken into custody at the Haitian border Friday. Lankford said the group had hoped to take the children to an orphanage they had set up at a Dominican hotel. He said the group thought they had the proper paperwork.

Lankford said U.S. officials Saturday were working to locate the 10 church members. As for the world health officials' survey, it will be into next week before the findings are compiled and even longer before the PDA experiment is judged a success or failure.

A recent visit by survey interviewers to the village of Nouvelle Tourraine illustrates the process involved. There, one person had died in the earthquake and one was injured. Two Catholic churches and 64 houses were destroyed; nine other houses were damaged.

The paid interviewers spoke with the appointed director-general of the Kenscoff, a district that includes Nouvelle Tourraine. He answered the questions with confidence. The temporary housing's protection from weather: poor. Privacy: acceptable. Security: poor. Sheltering households with water purifying chemicals: less than 25 percent. Ones with necked water containers that make water storage safer: 50 to 75 percent.

Then it was around the corner to the Sanitary Bureau, where a public health doctor and infectious-diseases specialist, Dorothy Posy, provided the information. Number of births in Nouvelle Tourraine, in the last week: 10. Number with trained attendants: nine. Cases of diarrheal disease: one. She was happy to report that the 10 people on antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection and the four under treatment for tuberculosis had no interruption of treatment.

With AP

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