Program Note: Tune in tonight for live coverage on the situation on the ground in Haiti. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/21/t1.idf.clinic.doc.jpg caption="A medic at the IDF Field Hospital in Port-au-Prince checks on an injured child." width=300 height=169]
AC360° Associate Producer
Medical professionals in Haiti are struggling to help critically ill patients with limited resources. We've heard horror stories about doctors forced to substitute vodka for rubbing alcohol, and use hacksaws for amputations. These dramatic and desperate images are described by some as "civil war medicine." However, this is not the situation at an Israeli-run field hospital in the earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Located on a Port-au-Prince soccer field, the facility has operating rooms, an intensive care unit, a pediatric ward, and even a pharmacy. The technology is as sophisticated as most Western hospitals: it has x-ray equipment, respirators, monitors, and incubators that have sustained at least two pre-mature babies born since the earthquake.
How did a country that has never experienced a major earthquake respond so quickly and efficiently? To find out more about Israel's response in Haiti, I spoke with an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer. The man on the other end of the phone sounded familiar – a New York accent, distinctly from Queens – and the voice of my old friend from summer camp years ago.
The following is what Captain Barak Raz told me about Israel's operation in Haiti.
EP: How soon after the earthquake hit did Israel act, and what preparations were made for the mission?
CBR: A small assessment crew was sent within hours. The quake hit late at night Israeli time, and by early morning the assessment crew was in the air. That initial team included military officers and personnel form the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That crew arrived early Wed. and advised the government and the army on what was needed. We knew setting up a field hospital was the most important priority, so about 40 specialists went, including orthopedists, gynecologists, and surgeons. The search and rescue teams brought canine units, security, construction crews, and communications and logistics experts. More than 220 people were sent; they arrived on Friday.
EP: The airport was still recovering, and not fully operating on Friday. Did the Israeli delegation have trouble getting on the ground?
CBR: We sent 2 El Al planes – 1 with personnel, and 1 with cargo – the plane carrying the officers was able to land in Haiti and immediately get to work, but the cargo plane was delayed for about 8 hours before they were able to land.
EP: You're not in Haiti, but you've been in constant communication with the Israeli field hospital. What's the latest there, and how long will they remain in Port-au-Prince?
CBR: As of wed. afternoon, the doctors have performed over 140 life-saving operations, treated 383 people, are providing care for 62 people still in critical condition, and delivered 7 babies, including 2 pre-maturely. The mother of the first baby born in the hospital named her son Israel. Our search and rescue operations recovered a 52-year-old man buried in the rubble of a government building for 4 days, in addition to others rescued. They have also worked with teams form Russia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to rescue victims. Unfortunately, people have died, not everyone can be a miracle. The plan was always to be there for at least 2 weeks, and supplies were sent with that in mind, but there is the possibility of an extension based on assessments. Another plane arrived on Wed. with Gen. Yair Golan of Home Front Command, and the Director General of the Ministry of Health, and the Surgeon General on board.
EP: Israel is over 6,500 miles from Haiti and has never experienced a major earthquake, are the troops uniquely qualified to respond to the situation in Port-au-Prince?
CBR: The country has always been committed to helping the international community. Israel has been doing this for a while with relief missions in Kenya in 2002, El Salvador and India in 2001, and even going back to aiding Rwandan refugees in Zaire in '94. Don't forget that Israel lies on the Syrian-African rift, so we have to be prepared for a major quake. We have minor ones, but we are preparing for worse. It's important for us to have highly trained people ready to do that work.
EP: How does the IDF train and practice in a country with limited open land?
CBR: We do exercises to simulate a variety of scenarios that can occur. We must practice for manmade destruction from war, but also for natural disasters. Home Front Command coordinates using construction sites after a building is demolished, and before the rubble is cleared away. In July, we had a national preparedness drill called Turning Point 3, which tested response on every level in an emergency. Last week we hosted the IPRED conference (International Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and Disasters) with drills and discussions on disasters and emergency medicine.
EP: Are the doctors experiencing a shortage in supplies? What's the plan for replenishing?
CBR: Israel has an embassy in the Dominican Republic, and that has been a huge help in the operation. They have also helped diplomatically by coordinating with the other relief organizations. We have additional supplies on the way to Haiti.
EP: Now, a personal question. You have dual American-Israeli citizenship, hail from Fresh Meadows in Queens, and graduated from Binghamton University in upstate New York. How are you feeling about the response by both your countries in Haiti? What do you want to say to your friends back home about it?
CBR: I am proud of the Americans for having the largest force in Haiti, and of the Israelis for their efforts. But it really is bigger than my citizenship, this is about worldwide support from all of the various countries helping out. That is above all the most important thing.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with