Gunshot victims overwhelm Guatemala emergency room

Associated Press
In this photo taken Nov. 27, 2010, a doctor sutures near the ear of a patient who was wounded by a machete at the emergency room of the San Juan de Dios hospital in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  Guatemala is one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere with over 50 murders for every 100,000 residents. In 2009 at least 6,451 people were killed, according to police. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
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Many nights, especially on weekends and paydays, the main public hospital in this violence-wracked Central American capital is flooded with patients suffering from stabbing or gunshot wounds.

Massive numbers of cases have stretched the San Juan de Dios Hospital, Guatemala City's largest, to the breaking point. The medical facility, along with the city's Roosevelt Hospital, treated 1,224 gunshot and knife-wound patients from January to November this year.

Guatemala, with a homicide rate of 50 per 100,000 people annually, is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere, exceeded only by Honduras, El Salvador and Venezuela. Health Minister Ludwig Ovalle says treating victims of violence costs about $44 million, or about 10 percent of the department's total annual budget.

The violence epidemic affects people such as Marvin Cruz, a 15-year-old student from a town on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

Marvin wasn't hit by a bullet. But as he lay on a stretcher waiting for emergency care for appendicitis, three people with gunshot wounds came in and had to be admitted for emergency surgery before him. Three hours later, as he was about to be operated on, more gunshot cases were rushed in before him.

Twelve hours after he arrived, Marvin was finally treated for his appendicitis.

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