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At a glance: Haiti

Meeting the changing health needs of children affected by the earthquake in Haiti

© UNICEF Canada/2010/Tidey
Dr. Gerlant Van Berlaer, a paediatrician with UNICEF partner B-Fast, talks with Jenan Louise Vanin, whose three-month-old daughter Morgane is suffering from dehydration and acute malnutrition, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At left: UNICEF Canada communications consultant Lydie Collette.

By Chris Tidey

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 8 February 2010 – Dr. Gerlant Van Berlaer is a paediatrician with B-Fast, a Belgian non-governmental organization and UNICEF partner specializing in rapid medical deployment to large-scale emergencies. His team arrived in Port-au-Prince one day after the 12 January earthquake, setting up a field hospital – complete with surgical suite – on the grounds of the Laboratoire National de Santé Publique.

Nearly 40 per cent of Haitians are below the age of 14, and Dr. Van Berlaer estimated that more than 80 per cent of the patients treated by his team have been children.

During the first few days after the earthquake, the majority of children and adults who came to the field hospital needed medical care for fractures and lacerations. Four weeks on, however, the health needs of children, in particular, are changing.

© UNICEF Canada/2010/Tidey
At a field hospital in Port-au-Prince, Dr. Gerlant Van Berlaer examines three-month-old Morgane as her mother Jenan Louise Vanin looks on.

Incubator of childhood diseases
With hundreds of thousands of quake survivors living at very close quarters in makeshift settlements, children are at risk of contracting life-threatening illnesses.

“Certain diseases and medical conditions thrive in situations like this, where people in the camps are staying so close together, in some cases without access to clean water and proper sanitation,” said Dr. Van Berlaer. He added that extensive immunization coverage is needed to prevent children from falling ill or even dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

UNICEF has begun a major immunization campaign for 500,000 Haitian children under seven. Children targeted in the drive – which started last week in the settlements for the displaced – are being immunized against measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

Treatment for undernutrition
Dr. Van Berlaer pointed out that undernutrition is also a real threat to children caught in a disaster such as the Haiti earthquake. Children left homeless and in temporary shelters in the quake zone are now largely dependent on international aid to meet their nutritional needs.

At the B-Fast field hospital, Dr. Van Berlaer treated Jenan Louise Vanin’s three-month-old daughter Morgane, who was suffering from dehydration and acute malnutrition; he administered a solution of oral rehydration salts provided by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s ability to quickly provide partners on the ground with large quantities of medical supplies for children is so important,” said Dr. Van Berlaer.

When the global media spotlight inevitably moves away from the earthquake in Haiti, the medical needs of this country’s vulnerable children will not disappear. That is why UNICEF and its partners are committed to the well-being of Haiti’s children over the long-term.



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