Unrest in Haiti has halted on-site support from Akron medical mission since 2019 – Akron Beacon Journal

Several Akron-area health professionals have seen firsthand the increasing dangers faced by volunteers who travel to serve in crisis-torn Haiti.
Dr. John Pope, director of Akron Children’s Hospital’s Office of Pediatric Global Health, and Dr. Jeff Kempf, the division’s former director, spoke Monday about the growing chaos in the Caribbean country in the wake of the weekend kidnapping of 17 missionaries and family members associated with Holmes County-based Christian Aid Ministries.
That group, including five men, seven women and five children (one of which was a 2-year-old) was returning from building an orphanage when they were abducted, allegedly by a gang that was accused of kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year, according to police.
More:‘We commit this situation to God’: Holmes County missionaries kidnapped in Haiti
Christian Aid Ministries had resumed mission work in Haiti in 2020 after staying away for nine months because of gang violence and political unrest.
The same unrest interrupted the Akron-based medical mission.
Since the island was hit with a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010, health professionals from Akron Children’s have regularly visited St. Damien Hospital outside of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, to perform life-saving heart surgeries on Haitian children.
More:Documentary features life-saving heart surgeries by Akron Children’s doctors
Those visits came to an abrupt halt in 2019.
That’s the year the Children’s team left halfway through its trip to St. Damien, leaving behind over half a dozen children who were scheduled to receive operations from them. The reason? Not enough supplies, such as blood from the local Red Cross, and the civil unrest that still plagues the country.
During their trip in 2019, several members of Pope’s team reported hearing gunshots outside at night from their hotel, just down the street from the U.S. Embassy. When at the hospital, they would witness protests against the government that involved setting tires on fire and creating roadblocks.
“Until 2019, I never really felt unsafe at all,” Pope said. “It really has been the past couple of years where the unrest has made it made more dangerous.”
There have been four kidnappings, one of which was a physician, within St. Damien and the schools, orphanages and adult hospital surrounding it.
“[St. Damien] has said, ‘We’re not going to negotiate,’” Kempf said. “What they will do is close the hospital. They close all the clinics and they maintain the emergency rooms…so people coming from the community for baby care, shots, food or checkups can’t be seen. In each of those four cases, there’s been such an uprising within the community that a few have been released.”
One such kidnapping happened a little over a month ago to the manager of a neighboring orphanage for babies, according to Pope.
“They literally went over the wall into where the orphanage was and kidnapped her at three or four in the morning,” Pope explained. “Fortunately, everything worked out and they were able to get her back. They didn’t have to pay a ransom. But that’s the kind of things that are going on right now.”
The United Nations Integrated Office said at least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.
Both Akron doctors said they hope the individuals abducted Saturday will return home safely.
There have been no Akron Children’s medical mission trips to Haiti within the last two years, and Pope doesn’t anticipate any taking more place until the country’s political situation improves. Akron Children’s health professionals, however, remain committed to Haiti’s children and have continued to provide support from afar after the country was hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August.
More:‘Just heartbreaking:’ Akron Children’s doctors work to send aid to Haiti after earthquake
“The people down there are wonderful, and the culture is wonderful,” Pope said. “The political situation stinks though.”
Contact Beacon Journal reporter Tawney Beans at tbeans@gannett.com and on Twitter @TawneyBeans.


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