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The whole nine yards - Jamaican aid workers vow to go all the way

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton (from Haiti)

ONE WEEK after arriving in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Jamaican aid workers have vowed to go the full nine yards to help in the rebuilding of that country.

Major Jaimie Stuart Ogilvie, who is heading the contingent of Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) personnel on the ground in Haiti, told The Sunday Gleaner that they were examining the structure of their delegation to "make sure that we have the right persons here for the long haul to continue the relief as long as we can".

The JDF has been at the centre of Jamaican involvement in the restoration of Haiti following the 7.0 magnitude quake. The Jamaica Fire Brigade, the Ministry of Health and the Jamaica Medical Doctor's Association have also been key contributors to the relief effort.

"We felt the magnitude of the earthquake, we knew the devastation that it would have caused, and we are happy to be here helping," Ogilvie told The Sunday Gleaner.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are feared dead and countless others injured as a result of the quake, which had its epicentre in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The Jamaica Fire Brigade, which participated in search-and-rescue operations, helped in the recovery of seven persons buried under rubble.

Up to yesterday, the Jamaican contingent was delivering relief supplies to some of the hardest-hit areas while continuing to provide security and medical assistance.

The medical team has, even with limited resources, been leaving its mark on Haitian soil with its presence being welcome medicine for an ailing nation.

"We have been able to impact positively on people's lives. No life has been lost in our care. Whatever we have been doing is being well done and is being done carefully. Were it not for us, more lives would have been lost," head of the medical delegation, Dr Derrick McDowell, told The Sunday Gleaner.

The Jamaican medical team comprising orthopaedic surgeons, general surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, emergency medical technicians and public-health workers, now operates two of eight hospitals in Port-au-Prince. The JDF also runs a clinic that offers medical treatment.

"The whole team worked together to lay a foundation and has built a strong system so when the next team comes in they will have something to work with," McDowell said.

But while the Jamaican team carries on its tour of duties, it is being hamstrung by the absence of its own vehicle fleet and a shortage of fuel in the country. Language difference is a hurdle, but there is an abundance of goodwill from volunteers eager to ensure their countrymen get aid.

Rehabilitation phase

McDowell has said there is going to be another phase of medical intervention where there will be "public-health problems" as well as "direct repercussions from the amputation of the limbs".

"We will now enter a phase of rehabilitation where these people will need crutches or some walking aid and ultimately, a prosthesis, and the impact this will have on the patients themselves will be tremendous," McDowell said.

Meanwhile, Ogilvie said the Jamaican team was focused and committed to the job.

"Members of the teams are very energised. They have made great personal sacrifices in a lot of cases to be here at such short notice. That is the nature of the military, but there are other persons from outside of the military that are here," Ogilvie said.

He added: "The gratitude and the many thanks of appreciation that we have got have been well worth the effort when we see the relief that we have been able to bring to them and how much they appreciate it."

Many Haitians have lamen-ted the predicament of their nation and have expressed concerns about the ability of the country to bounce back.

One female doctor noted that a large portion of the country's university popula-tion had been killed in the quake, which could retard the pace at which Haiti rebounds from this disaster.