The Rosett Report

Haiti Needs Doctors, Not the UN Celebrity-General

In the post on Haiti below, I mentioned that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was planning to visit the stricken country on Sunday — but it seemed that instead of going there himself, Ban could do more for Haiti by using his special UN plane to send sacks of rice in his place.

Scrap that. Looks like Ban would have been kinder to just keep both himself and his plane at home — and turn over his celebrity landing slot at Port-au-Prince to medical flights for outfits such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders). In a bulletin this morning, MSF reports that yesterday it sent a plane loaded with a field hospital and medical staff to Haiti — but the plane was not allowed to land. Instead, it was re-routed to Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, at a makeshift hospital tent in Haiti, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, found himself the only doctor available Friday night to care for wounded patients — after doctors and nurses brought in as part of the relief effort left the scene, escorted by UN peacekeeping personnel. Something of a debate seems to be going on among CNN, relief works and UN authorities over who decided the medical team should leave its patients — here’s the story if you want to make your own guess about what happened.

No question that this is a horrendously difficult situation. But the arrival of the UN Secretary-General at this moment of need seems a strange priority, for the UN, and for the overall relief effort. If the resources are available to provide a landing slot for his plane, transport him around on the ground and provide for his security, wouldn’t all that be better spent ensuring that MSF staff and supplies could arrive at speed, and relief doctors on the ground do not find themselves compelled to abandon overnight the patients they are trying to save?