PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals across Haiti have gone on strike to protest a rise in gang-related kidnappings as supporters burned tires and blocked roads on Tuesday.
The three-day strike that began on Monday has closed public and private health facilities in the capital Port-au-Prince and beyond, with only emergency rooms accepting patients.
“We are living in a catastrophic situation where no one is protected,” said Dr. Louis Gérald Gilles, who closed his private practice in the Delmas district on Tuesday to protest against the recent kidnappings of two doctors. “No professional is protected. Today it could be a doctor, tomorrow they could enter the office of a lawyer or an architect.
Kidnappings in Haiti rose 180% last year, with 655 of them reported to police, according to a mid-February report by the United Nations Security Council. Authorities believe the number is much higher because many kidnappings go unreported.
“No social group has been spared; among the victims were workers, shopkeepers, religious leaders, professors, doctors, journalists, human rights defenders and foreign citizens,” the report said.
The most recent kidnappings of two doctors have spooked staff at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, where union workers gathered on Tuesday and said conditions had become increasingly dysfunctional since the assassination of the President Jovenel Moïse on July 7.
They accused Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s administration of not releasing much-needed funds to the Health Ministry for basic services, adding they were concerned about the lack of security.
“They can come in here, grab anyone and leave without worry,” said Guerline Jean-Louis, a 44-year-old hospital janitor who joined the strike. “That’s why we support the movement.”
Haitian Health Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Some patients, including Mario Fleurimon, a 39-year-old teacher, were unaware of the strike.
On Tuesday, he strode into a medical complex that was empty except for a single security guard. Although frustrated at not being able to see a doctor for his diabetes, he said he supported the strike.
“There should be a general uprising to fight insecurity,” he said.
In a recent statement, the Medical Association of Haiti called on the government to press for the doctors to be released unconditionally and to implement measures to “stop the wave of insecurity that deprives us of our fundamental freedom to live our life freely”.
One of the doctors was released on Tuesday, although the terms of his release were not immediately known.
The Prime Minister has pledged to quell soaring gang violence and kidnappings, with the United States and other countries pledging resources and training to help an understaffed and underfunded police force.
The strike by medical professionals is due to end on Wednesday, while another strike by the Association of Owners and Drivers in Haiti was due to begin Thursday to protest vehicle theft in the community of Martissant, ground zero for warring gangs who kidnapped or killed several civilians, many of them on public buses.