Israeli Medical Team Rushes To Help Haitian Burn Victims

Their mission was to perform various surgeries and train local physicians in the latest treatment methods.

<p>Sheba Medical Center burn experts arriving in Haiti. From far right is Sam Davis, founding director of the Burn Advocates Network (BAN), and to his right is Dr. Josef Haik, director of Israel’s National Burn Center at Sheba. (Sheba Medical Center)</p>

On Dec. 14, 2021, a fuel tank truck crashed in Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti. It then exploded, killing more than 65 people and burning dozens of others. 

Hospitals in Haiti are still overwhelmed with the wounded.

To help, medical experts arrived from Israel — some coming directly from serving in Israel’s field hospital in Ukraine. Seventy Israeli volunteers manned the Shining Star field hospital in western Ukraine. Though the hospital was marked, so pilots could see it was a medical station, the World Health Organization reported 31 Russian attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine between Feb. 24 and March 13.

That hasn’t stopped medical professionals from offering their services worldwide.

Prof. Josef Haik, director of Israel’s National Burn Center at Sheba Medical Center, is leading the mission in cooperation with the U.S.-based Burn Advocates Network (BAN).

“Unfortunately a few months ago, they had a big fire disaster, and they still have injured patients that we need to treat,” Haik said as he departed on April 3.

Dr. Josef Haik, second from left, working with Haitian physicians to treat a young burn victim in April 2022. (Sheba Medical Center)

“We’re going to do as many surgeries as we can to try and help their wounds. We will also bring equipment they are lacking and teach them how to use it and leave it there, so they can continue rehabilitating Haiti.”

Haik, who heads Sheba’s division of plastic surgery and is a professor at Tel Aviv University, has brought his expertise to Haiti before.

In February 2020, on the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, Haik led an international team of burn surgeons, sponsored by BAN, to set up the first pediatric laser for treating disfiguring burn scars in children at Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot.

Shnider Avril was severely burned by an explosion from a propane tank in February 2018 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was photographed in the Medecins Sans Frontires/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Drouillard hospital for burn patients. Haiti has a high rate of burn victims, due to poor safety standards in cooking areas, high rates of candle usage and the prevalence of old and defective propane tanks. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Burn Advocates Network’s first mission to Haiti began six weeks after the devastating earthquake of 2010. The aftermath of the natural disaster included a flood of over 1,000 burn victims fleeing from the earthquake’s epicenter, 15 miles southwest of the capital. 

The National Burn Center in Port Au Prince was badly damaged, and there was no coordinated disaster plan in place. For the children who did survive the immediate burns, physical therapy was not available. Haiti’s first laser treatment facility for burn scars was opened at Sacre Coeur Hospital with three days of training by Israel’s top surgeons. Thirty surgeons, nurses and therapists from six Haitian and Dominican Republic hospitals were trained to use state-of-the-art techniques for treating pediatric burns.

Haik has often undertaken humanitarian medical missions in various places, including Romania, Cameroon, Congo and Guatemala. 

Produced in association with ISRAEL21c.