Doctors skirted a bureaucratic logjam to save the life of two critically ill child victims of Haiti's earthquake on Sunday, flying them to U.S. hospitals on a private jet to avoid a military suspension of medical evacuation flights.
A 5-year-old tetanus victim and a 14-month-old boy critically ill with pneumonia were sent to Children's Hospital in Philadelphia by the aid group Partners in Health, based in Boston.
The airlift had been in doubt after the U.S. military stopped medical evacuation flights on Wednesday night because of concerns that hospitals would not accept the patients as federal and state officials debated who should pay for their care.
Five-year-old Betina Joseph, who developed tetanus from a small cut on her thigh, was in danger of dying if she could not reach a respirator at a U.S. hospital, said Dr. Barth Green, chairman of the University of Miami's Global Institute for Community Health and Development.
"We have 100 critically ill patients who will die in the next day or two if we don't Medevac them," Green said Friday.
Meanwhile, relief workers were preparing for a woman-only food distribution system in Haiti's capital, launching a new phase of what they hope will be less cutthroat aid distribution to ensure that families and the weak get supplies following Haiti's devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
Young men often force their way to the front of aid delivery lines or steal from it from others, meaning aid doesn't reach the neediest at rough-and-tumble distribution centers, according to aid groups.
The World Food Program coupons can be turned in by women at 16 sites in the capital starting Sunday, and entitle each family to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of rice.
U.N. officials say they are still far short of reaching all 2 million quake victims estimated to need food aid.
Both federal and state officials appeared to distance themselves from the decision to suspend the military's medical evacuation flights.
White House officials said they were working to increase hospital capacity in Haiti and aboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship as well as in the United States.
Col. Rick Kaiser said Sunday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to build a 250-bed tent hospital to relieve pressures on the Comfort and on Haitian facilities where earthquake victims are being treated under tarpaulins in hospital grounds.
Several Port-au-Prince hospitals were damaged or destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said about 435 earthquake victims had been evacuated before the suspension, and that he was "sure the Department of Defense wants to do the right thing."
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told ABC News' Good Morning America on Sunday he was puzzled by the reported suspension. He said 700 people had come from Haiti to Florida over the past 24 hours and said the state was still willing to help emergency cases.
"It's all hands on deck here in the Sunshine State. We're welcoming Haitians with open arms and probably done more than any other state and happy to continue to do so," Crist said.
In other developments:
- Ten Americans were detained by Haitian police on Saturday as they tried to bus 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic, allegedly without proper documents. The Baptist church members from Idaho called it a "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" to save abandoned children in the disaster zone. But the Americans — the first known to be detained since the earthquake — put themselves in the middle of a political firestorm over fears that children are falling prey to child trafficking. A Monday hearing before a judge was scheduled.
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