Coronavirus pandemic denies children access to their basic rights

Wisphania is one of 4 million Haitian children who have not been to school for nearly three months.

Ndiaga Seck
Wisphania en train de jouer avec son frere
UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler
30 juillet 2020

On the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF deployed a strong and multisectoral response in Haiti. In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and Population with the support from multiple donors, UNICEF has mobilized 15 national and international NGOs to carry out awareness-raising and prevention activities across the country. Community mobilisers go further and further every day to reach the most vulnerable.

Dame Marie, Haiti, June 9, 2020 - Wisphania Metellus is nostalgic. She misses school and her classmates. Since the coronavirus was declared in Haiti, the 11-year-old girl stayed at home to do some household chores. "As I don't go to school, I stay at home. I sweep the yard and the kitchen, I clean the house and I make the bed,” she said.

Wisphania is one of 4 million Haitian children who have not been to school for nearly three months. On 19 March 2020, Haiti declared its first two cases of COVID-19 and to curb the spread of the virus, the country adopted preventive measures including a curfew and the closing of schools. As of June 7, 3,334 cases have been reported, including 51 deaths. Wisphania seems to care about her health and knows the barrier gestures by heart. “To avoid getting the disease, you have to wash your hands often, not shake hands, nor kiss each other and keep two meters away from others,” she said.

On numerous occasions, the little girl attended awareness sessions on COVID-19 at her home. Community mobilizers from ACTED, the NGO partnering with UNICEF in Grande Anse, go from house to house to inform families to better protect themselves and their children. Following a communication strategy developed by the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) with the support of UNICEF, sensitizers explain in detail how to pass on the virus and how to prevent from catching the disease.

Chokarella

Fabienne Metellus, Wisphania's mother, is an entrepreneur. The 35-year-old head of household buys bags of beans in Dame Marie to sell in the regional capital Jeremie, or in the metropolitan area of ​​Port-au-Prince. She uses her profit from this trade, between 200 to 500 gourdes per day (two to five US dollars) to take care of her 11-year-old daughter, her one-year old son Snarly and her 67-year-old sight-impaired mother.

In areas affected by Hurricane Matthew such as Dame Marie, tap buckets were distributed to facilitate hand washing, in addition to messages broadcast on the radio or delivered by sensitizers with megaphones. Fabienne knows that the virus is dangerous. She wants to see her children grow up healthy and does not intend to let COVID-19 kill her dreams. “It is a disease that is wreaking havoc around the world. It has destroyed many people’s lives," she said. “It can harm my child's future, and that of all young many people. The disease has paralyzed education and my child will lose all the progress she had made,” she added.

Une demonstration de lavage des mains par un des partenaires de l'UNICEF à Dame Marie(Grand'Anse)
UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler
Sensitization followed by hand washing demonstration by ACTED agents, one of UNICEF's partners, in Dame Marie (Grand'Anse).

Children are not most at risk of losing their lives at COVID-19, but they no longer have access to the rights to education and development, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the child (CDE). “Children can no longer go to school nor play with their friends. Because of the coronavirus, they are forced to stay at home. They no longer have access to their playgrounds, their classrooms, or their friends,” said Jean Stenio Pierre, Head of the UNICEF sub-office in the South.

UNICEF supported the MSPP in the production of 500,000 leaflets, 250,000 posters and 100,000 posters and since the crisis began, 2.2 million people have been sensitized and 9,400 community leaders engaged in the fight against COVID-19. Early June, UNICEF provided the MSPP with 20 oxygen concentrators, 20 laser thermometers, and 13 42-square-meter tents to strengthen patient care.

Une personne se lavant les mains
UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler
A person washing their hands from a bucket distributed by UNICEF with the support of donors

Wisphania dreams of the end of the pandemic and return to school because she has a specific goal. “I want to do long studies and become a medical doctor to treat people,” she said. What a coincidence!  Because Haiti needs doctors to strengthen its health system.

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UNICEF's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Haiti is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, the Government of Canada, the French and Spanish national committees of UNICEF, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Government of Japan and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO).