By M.P. Nunan
LEOGANE, Haiti, 27 October 2010 – Richemond Casseus is walking through a small village – typical of the hundreds that line Haiti’s coastal areas. And he does not like what he sees.
|VIDEO: UNICEF'S M.P. Nunan reports on the distribution of mosquito nets to Haitian families in fight against malaria. Watch in RealPlayer|
“Usually, a small house like this is lined with palm fronds – but they didn’t stay,” he says, pointing out the gaps in between every slat in the wall of the thatched home.
“It’s important for the family living here to have mosquito nets.”
Breeding ground for mosquitoes
Casseus is a Senior Liaison Officer with Malteser International, the UNICEF partner that is distributing some of the 400,000 mosquito nets UNICEF is giving out to over 200,000 Haitian families.
Up the path, he points to a mango tree. When fruit is left to rot on the ground, it’s a breeding ground for mosquitoes, says Casseus.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Families stand in queue to receive mosquito nets in Leogane, Haiti.|
And then there’s the mud, a sign that livestock are living too close to the village.
“It’s easy for mosquitoes to lay their eggs here, and they would attack people who sleep in the nearby house. The animals should be put much further from the house,” he explains.
Casseus has just come from distributing mosquito nets to roughly 650 people from a handful of villages outside Leogane. The people spent hours lined up in the sun for the nets – which were distributed in empty water buckets, along with water purification tablets.
At 250 Haitian gourdes – or US$7 – mosquito nets are financially out of reach for most of these villagers.
Malaria is under-reported in Haiti, with an official prevalence rate of just 5-7 percent. That figure does not mesh, however, with the UNICEF estimate of 70-80 per cent of people living in low-lying coastal areas who are at risk of contracting the disease.
|© UNICEF video|
|The mosquito nets distributed by UNICEF in Leogane, Haiti.|
What’s more, UNICEF believes that only five per cent of children under-five who contract the disease receive treatment for it.
A new threat
For that reason, the UNICEF distribution campaign targets households with children under-five and pregnant women. The nets are also sprayed with insecticide to ensure protection.
Still, it’s not just malaria that goes under-reported. There are no credible statistics for incidents of dengue fever, says UNICEF Country Director Francoise Gruloos-Ackerman.
Referring to the Dominican Republic, Gruloos-Ackerman said, “We are on an island and in the neighboring country - they have dengue. So supposing the mosquitoes are not stopping at the border and the immigration office, we have dengue here in this country too - but we have no figures.”
Prior to the UNICEF distribution, just six per cent of Haitian households in affected areas were reported to use mosquito nets.