|© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Dormino|
|A child is weighed at the Martissant Community Clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
By Lawrence Allen
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 4 January 2012 – More than 40 women, most of them cradling babies, sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the small waiting room of the Martissant Community Clinic. By day’s end, more than 150 women will arrive to see the clinic’s medical or nutrition staff.
Located on a busy, narrow street in the Martissant district of Port-au-Prince, the clinic is run by the Fondation pour le développement et l’encadrement de la famille Haïtienne (FONDEFH), a local NGO and UNICEF partner. The clinic is one of several UNICEF-supported programmes combatting acute and chronic child malnutrition in Haiti.
Child malnutrition has plagued Haiti for decades: Approximately one fifth of children under age 5 are underweight, and half of pregnant women and up to 75 per cent of children under age 2 suffer from anaemia. These problems reflect societal inequality, with poor and rural children and women facing higher rates of stunting, underweight and wasting.
UNICEF is addressing the immediate nutrition needs of children and pregnant and lactating women, but more must be done to ensure these children and women have long-term access to nutritional services and health care. To this end, UNICEF is forging partnerships and facilitating training programmes to help the country establish local, sustainable nutrition solutions.
A community-oriented approach
With UNICEF’s support, the FONDEFH clinic provides vitamin A and iron-folic acid supplementation for pregnant and lactating women. The clinic also counsels women on breastfeeding and infant feeding, and provides government-funded obstetric and pre-natal services.
“This facility opened in 1976, and we started our full nutrition programs in 2010, when UNICEF provided funding, supply and training,” explains FONDEFH Technical Director Marie Bellomme Morose. “The addition of nutrition services gives women and their children more of the essential health and support services they need close to home.”
|© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Dormino|
|The clinic provides essential support to new mothers and their children. Informed mothers, in turn, are invaluable teachers in their communities.|
But in rural and remote communities, families live much further from healthcare facilities. In these areas, UNICEF and its NGO partners promote a community-oriented approach, with a goal of eventually reducing reliance on NGOs by advancing community involvement in programme delivery.
“Through client education, peer mentoring, support groups and other community-based approaches, we’re encouraging communities to take a more active role in nutrition programs,” said UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Leslie Koo. “Something as simple as a well-informed and trained mother, leading basic nutrition support groups, can help a community become a little more self-reliant.”
Education and partnerships increase capacity
To advance long-term capacity, UNICEF is working to better integrate nutrition training and education into formal healthcare education programs, including medicine and nursing curriculums.
“Part of our role is to help build Haiti’s capacity to independently deliver effective community nutrition programs and services, including prevention, treatment and behaviour change,” said UNICEF Nutrition Knowledge and Information Manager Ismael Ngnie-Teta. “We are collaborating with the Ministry of Heath, for example, to evaluate nutrition training currently available to professionals, where the gaps are, how many more people need to be trained, and the type of teaching needed.”
UNICEF is also forging innovative partnerships to address common nutritional deficiencies in Haitian mothers and children.
“Along with partners, USAID and the World Food Program, we are working with Haiti’s largest flour company to enrich its products,” said Aissa Mamadoultaibou, UNICEF infant and young child feeding and micronutrient manager. “We can provide individual mothers and children with supplements, but by fortifying a staple like flour with iron-folate and vitamin B12, we can reach most of the population. It also applies to adding iodine to salt, which is critical for proper mental development.”
Through these partnerships and training programmes, UNICEF is working to ensure all children receive the nutrition they need now while equipping communities to feed their youngest members in the future.