The director of one of Haiti’s top hospitals was kidnapped on Friday, prompting staff to refuse to take in new patients in protest as the impoverished country battles an outbreak of the novel coronavirus amid a spike in gang violence.
Dr. Jerry Bitar, a surgeon, was kidnapped shortly after leaving for work at Hospital Bernard Mevs from his home in an upmarket neighborhood of the capital, hospital staff told Reuters.
Kidnappings for ransom have sharply increased this year amid a political and economic crisis in Haiti, which according to the World Bank is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Police confirmed 15 kidnapping cases in January alone. Gangs appear to strike indiscriminately, with victims ranging from Haitian schoolchildren, lawmakers and businessmen to foreign aid workers.
A crowd gathered outside the facility in solidarity with Bitar, who runs the hospital together with his twin brother, while staff chanted in unison calls for his release. Haitian media outlets also pleaded for bandits to free Bitar.
“In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, it is abnormal to take the hospital’s doctor,” said Jean Wilguens Charles, a local resident whose friends have received treatment at the hospital. “We demand his liberation without conditions.”
Medical assistant Claude Devil said the hospital usually attended all Haitians, including those who had no money to pay for services, but would not take in new patients while still attempting to look after existing ones as best possible.
“There are several patients waiting to be operated but we cannot work without the doctors’ order,” he said.
The relevant authorities are following the case, a Health Ministry spokesman said.