Mother seeks to protect daughter from new coronavirus

On the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF deployed a strong and multisectoral response in Haiti

Ndiaga Seck
Un homme se lavant les mains
Ndiaga Seck
02 juin 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.

Tiburon, Haiti, 25 May 2020 - When she heard about the new coronavirus and the damage it made around the world, Raymone Notus, 39, tamed her fear to find ways to protect her three children. The resident of the small village of Sevré in the south of Haiti, learned on the radio how you can contract the disease and how to protect yourself. She immediately started looking for a prevention tool: a tap bucket. “We would like to put a bucket in the middle of the village but we couldn't find one. We even looked at the weekly market in vain,” she said.

Haiti reported its first two COVID-19 cases on March 19, 2020. As of 25 May, 1063 cases have been recorded, with 31 deaths. Although she hadn't heard of a case in her community, Raymone didn't want to risk seeing her 7-year-old daughter Ismanite catch the virus. She felt relieved when community mobilizers arrived in the village to raise awareness. “A few days ago, the Red Cross donated this bucket to us. We put water in it, and we wash our hands very often, "she said.

Chokarella

The tap bucket commonly called "bokit" sits on an old backless chair in the middle of the compound. Ismanite Mercier has stopped going to her school in Cahouane, because of the pandemic. She has heard of barrier gestures that can help reduce the spread of the virus and even at her age, she applies them all to the letter. “We must avoid touching our mouth, nose and eyes. We need to wash our hands regularly with clean water and soap,” said the little girl, walking the talk. Hand washing is recommended as an effective practice against the spread of COVID-19, but only 26% of Haitians do it properly.

The village of Sevré is not of easy access, separated from Tiburon, the nearest town, by a river. But Red Cross workers go further and further each day to reach the most vulnerable populations. The UNICEF partner has also installed handwashing stations in public places such as markets, bus stations and near water catchments to reach the greatest numbers of people.

With 20 years of experience in the field, Jameson Téranfort, project manager at the Dutch Red Cross, is very passionate as he describes the strategy applied to protect communities. “Today, we are raising awareness among those who go to the weekly market in Tiburon. We show them how to wash their hands with water, chlorine or soap,” he said. “Haitian Red Cross volunteers erect handwashing stations in strategic areas such as bars, public places, where there are many more people. They sensitize people in their communities by using the prevention messages developed by the MSPP.”

UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health and Population (MSPP) develop a communication strategy, design messages and produce of 500,000 leaflets, 250,000 fact sheets and 100,000 posters on COVID-19 prevention. Since the outbreak of the disease in Haiti, partners have informed more than 1.8 million people, engaged 8,100 community leaders and installed more than 2,100 handwashing stations. Through coordination including government divisions and NGOs, UNICEF orients its partners to the communities most in need of assistance.

“Here, specifically on the South Coast, an area that was completely devastated in 2016 by Hurricane Mathew, we focus first on how to protect children and women as much as possible from this COVID-19 virus, to protect the entire population of these communities”, clarified Jean Stenio Pierre, Head of the UNICEF sub-office in the South. "In fact, it is the level of vulnerability that determines the approach used," he added.

Knowing what to do to protect themselves, families in Tiburon area do not always have everything they need to cope with the pandemic. Raymone sells beans at the market and the little she earns is barely enough to feed her family. “We need soap and chlorine to wash our hands. We also need masks,” she said. For the past weeks, the MSPP has imposed the wearing of a masks to prevent from coronavirus infection.

Haiti has not had as many COVID-19 cases as many countries, but numbers keep rising. During the month of April, the country registered 65 confirmed cases. For the 25 May alone, 111 confirmed cases were recorded. Prevention will help reduce the spread of the virus and save the lives of thousands of families and children.

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).