Port-au-Prince, May 5: A bleeding pregnant woman dropped dead at the gates of Haiti's largest public hospital after failing to get help amid a weeks-old strike by resident doctors, nurses and other staff.
Hundreds of people gathered around the woman just outside the General Hospital compound in Port-au-Prince's crowded downtown yesterday.
They covered her body in a blanket and carried it to a nearby radio station in an impromptu protest, chanting: "Medicine needs to work!"
"This woman came here to get help but couldn't find any doctors. That's not right," computer technician Jean Michel Tius said as he watched the crowd march away with the corpse. Public hospitals primarily serve Haiti's poor and have been crippled by the strike.
Doctors, nurses and maintenance staff have walked off the job to protest a chronic dearth of even the most basic medical supplies, dismal pay and unsafe working conditions.
People needing medical help are forced to seek care at relatively pricey private hospitals or packed free clinics run by international organisations. Young resident doctors at the Hospital of the State University of Haiti, a teaching hospital, gathered privately in an office during the protest before holding a news conference.
Dr Joseph Herold, a third-year resident in obstetrics and gynaecology, said he was deeply saddened by news of the pregnant woman's death but he put the blame on the health ministry.
"The state doesn't give us anything to care for the patients," he said, adding that even rubber gloves are scarce. Resident physicians at the teaching hospital earn a basic salary of just USD 120 a month, Herold said.
He said pay hasn't increased for over 20 years, causing a steady stream of doctors to abandon the public hospital system or seek opportunities abroad. In a statement, the health ministry's mediators said the resident doctors are demanding nearly USD 1,300 a month.
They said they are trying to satisfy demands made by the resident doctors but they are powerless to address the salary complaints until the next fiscal year begins in October. The walkout at the General Hospital complex started when a resident doctor was apparently punched by an administrator.
But it has since broadened to demand better working conditions and pay. Staffers at nine other public hospitals are protesting in solidarity. After Haiti's 2010 earthquake, a new and improved General Hospital was supposed to be built with money from international donors but more than six years later it's still not completed.