In Haiti the Baby Tents provide a refuge for mothers and newborns who live in camps
Sabrina gets a healthy start in life
Baby Tents offer babies who lost their mother in the Haitian earthquake vital support and supplies
By Antonia Paradela
Port au Prince, June 2010 - In the heat of the morning, rows of babies sleep on mattresses under an open tent. Some of the mothers breastfeed, others take a rest. Nutrition workers sing: “We are Haitian women, we bring up healthy babies. We breastfeed them till they are two years old. We do not give them any other food till they are six months old.”
The Baby Tent, administered by the NGO Concern with UNICEF support, assists about 300 mothers and babies on a rotating basis; ten of the babies have lost their mothers and come with aunts or grandmothers. The baby tent is set in the middle of the Mais Gate camp, close to the Haitian capital’s airport. About 1.5 million people live in temporary settlements like this after losing their home in the January 12th earthquake.
Sabrina Michel, a lively five-month-old baby, was born shortly after the earthquake. Her mother, who had a heart condition, passed away two days later. She is now being brought up by her maternal aunt, Beatrice Terane, a single mother with a five-year-old son.
The baby tents provide a refuge for mothers and the newborns who live in camps. The women receive information about the importance of exclusively breastfeeding until the baby is six month old and also about hygiene and nutrition and how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. Before the earthquake, only 4 out of 10 Haitian women exclusively breastfed their babies during the first six months.
This morning the nutrition workers are having a session about how to prepare rehydration fluid in case the baby has diarrhoea. Pregnant women also attend, get information about the importance of an adequate diet and are encouraged to go to the hospital to give birth. Four severely malnourished children with medical complications were identified in the camp and sent to one of the 28 in-patient stabilisation centres supported by UNICEF, where they receive special therapeutic food and medical care. Children with no medical complications are referred to one of the 126 outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes.
“Before the earthquake, one in four children in Haiti was chronically malnourished, which had a detrimental effect on their physical and intellectual development. The crucial stages to avoid this are from the mother’s pregnancy till the age of two”, says Paola Valenti, a UNICEF Nutrition specialist based in Port au Prince. “By giving nutrition advice to pregnant and lactating women, the baby tents can help reverse this trend”.
Beatrice is thankful that the baby tent provides ready-to-use infant formula for Sabrina. The baby’s father visits them occasionally and, when he can, he brings some money. Without a regular income, Beatrice would not have been able to buy formula for her niece. Mauviette Raphael, who is responsible for nutrition in the camp, remembers that when she first met Sabrina and her aunt, “she was giving the baby solid food”. Now Sabrina is a healthy and alert baby who has the average weight for her age.
Beatrice lost her home in the earthquake. While her work place, a textile factory, was not damaged by the earthquake, she cannot work because she wants to look after Sabrina and her own child. “I cannot think now that I could separate myself from her”, she says. She would like to have a little shop so that she could take care of the two children while she makes a living.
Nearby a woman wearing a blue bandana carries a big baby boy. Sebastian Romain, 3 months old, is the first baby of Lucienne Rosier, who is 30. During the earthquake, while she was seven months pregnant, a piece of her home fell on her back and another hit her mother. Their home was badly damaged. “I do not know what I would have done with my newborn baby if there had been no baby tent in the camp”, says Lucienne. Her husband lost his job after the cosmetics factory where he worked was also destroyed.
Some 23,000 mothers and their babies benefit from the activities in 107 UNICEF supported baby tents in camps for people affected by the earthquake. Some 3,000 babies for whom breastfeeding is not possible have been receiving ready-to-use infant formula through the baby-friendly tents, with guidance on proper use and practices.
For more information
Cifora Monier, firstname.lastname@example.org, UNICEF Haiti, Tel: + 509 38812374
UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.