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US halts Haiti medical evacuations
Flights suspended until it is decided who will pay medical bills.
Last Modified: 31 Jan 2010 04:43 GMT


Tens of thousands are in dire need of medical help for physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder

The US has suspended evacuations of critically injured victims of the Haiti earthquake in a row over who will pay for their care, the military says.

"Apparently, some states were unwilling to accept the entry of Haitian patients for follow-on critical care ... without a destination to fly to, we can't move anybody," Captain Kevin Aandahl, a US transportation command spokesman, said.

"We've temporarily suspended the flights, but that capability exists to resume," Aandahl said.

The story, first reported by the New York Times on Saturday, said flights carrying people with spinal injuries, burns and other wounds ended on Wednesday after Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, asked the federal government for a ruling on who will pay for the medical care.

System 'saturated'

In a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the US health and human services secretary, written on Tuesday, Crist said: "Florida's health care system is quickly reaching saturation, especially in the area of high level trauma care.

"Recently we learned that federal planning is under way to move between 30-50 critically ill patients per day for an indefinite period of time,'' Crist told Sebelius, saying Florida could not handle such an endeavour.

special report
Special Report: Haiti earthquake
In a statement released on Saturday, Crist said his state remained committed to caring for injured earthquake victims and reuniting families, but that he was reaching out to other states to help care for them as well.

Aandahl declined to specify which states were no longer accepting patients and Florida officials denied that was the case at the state's hospitals.   

Barth Green, the co-founder of a non-profit group affiliated with the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, which has been evacuating about two dozen patients a day, criticised the move.

"People are dying in Haiti because they can't get out," Green said.

Americans detained

In another development, 10 US nationals were detained by Haitian police on Saturday as they tried to bus 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic.

The Baptist church members from Idaho called it Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission, meant to save abandoned children from the chaos following Haiti's earthquake.

Their plan was to take around 100 children by bus to a rented hotel at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, where they planned to establish an orphanage.

The Americans were detained after the Haitian government's decision to suspend adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking.

'Right thing'

Laura Silsby, the group's leader, said on Sunday: "In this chaos the government is in right now, we were just trying to do the right thing."

Silsby and the other nine church members are awaiting a Monday hearing before a judge.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12 killed around 170,000 people and left about one million homeless and short of food, water and medical attention.

Food distribution since the quake has been marked by poor co-ordination, gaps in coverage and sporadic violence by needy people desperate for help.

The World Food Programme [WFP] on Saturday said it had started its first systematic food distribution system, establishing 16 sites in the capital of Port-au-Prince, where only women can collect food.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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