Combating Child Malnutrition Amidst Crisis in Artibonite, Haiti
The number of malnourished children has doubled in the Artibonite department
GROS MORNE, Haiti – 5 October 2023 – In Gros Morne, a bustling town in the Artibonite department of northern Haiti, Teodace Cetoute, a 20-year-old farmer, found himself grappling with a crisis he could have never foreseen. His two-year-old twins, Evensley and Evenson, were admitted to the Alma Mater Nutritional Recovery Center, nestled in the town center.
For the past two months, Teodace has made the weekly journey to the outpatient center with his twins, where they receive therapeutic foods and invaluable counseling on infant and young child feeding practices.
"I'm a farmer, but the situation here in Artibonite has drastically deteriorated. I struggle to sell vegetables because people can no longer afford them. Many have also fled the area where I live. Making ends meet has become a daily challenge," Teodace lamented.
"Even our own meals have been reduced. That's why my twins started experiencing health problems. Two months ago, they began losing weight rapidly, suffering from diarrhea and vomiting," Teodace shared.
"A community health worker measured their arm circumference and instructed us to go directly to the health center. Here, they immediately provided us with medication and therapeutic foods," he continued.
"Fortunately, we were able to treat these twins in time. They were promptly admitted, and we provided them with therapeutic foods. They return here every week to receive the necessary support. We systematically measure their progress. While Evenson is showing signs of improvement, Evensley is still struggling," explained Celine Jacques, the center's nutrition and vaccination coordinator.
"We currently have over 87 cases of acute malnutrition in outpatient treatment, returning here weekly. The number of malnutrition cases has increased over the past few weeks, but it's also important to note that there is a significant dropout rate among families," Celine added. "Some families have told us they don't come back to the hospital because they fear being vandalized or kidnapped on the way."
"Coming here is difficult! It's true; we are afraid. We often hear about public transport vehicles being targeted by bandits on the road. But we have no other choice. It's either we take the risk or our children die," Teodace expressed.
The number of malnourished children has doubled in the Artibonite department and has significantly increased in recent months. The rate of severe acute malnutrition has risen from 0.8% in 2020 to 1.7% in 2023. Currently, more than 3,400 cases of severe and moderate acute malnutrition are being treated across the department out of the 32,100 children screened.
"UNICEF helps strengthen nutrition service delivery, focusing on preventing stunting, managing acute malnutrition, and reducing micronutrient deficiencies in children and women. At the community level, parents and caregivers, including fathers, are educated on the best way to feed infants and young children through informative sessions. They also learn how to properly care for young children to prevent malnutrition. However, the solution requires more than this," emphasized Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti.
"Malnutrition is not just about food or healthcare; it's an issue that demands comprehensive action. Equally vital are education, social safety nets, and other nutrition-sensitive poverty eradication measures," Mr. Maes continued.
Haiti's socio-economic landscape has rapidly deteriorated due to prolonged violence and widespread insecurity, resulting in a troubling surge in malnutrition rates across the nation. Immediate intervention is essential to prevent further deterioration in nutritional conditions and reduce malnutrition-related mortality.
As reported in the latest SMART nutritional survey, which revealed alarming levels of wasting across the country, more than 100,000 children under the age of five are in urgent need of treatment for severe wasting. The situation is particularly concerning in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and the Artibonite department.
UNICEF remains unwavering in its commitment to addressing this nutritional crisis in Haiti, ensuring that the most vulnerable children receive the care and support they need to thrive in these challenging times.