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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF and partners promote infant and young child nutrition in post-quake Haiti

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0128/LeMoyne
At dawn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a baby and many others displaced by the 12 January earthquake begin to stir, having spent the night outside.

By Roshan Khadivi

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 10 February 2010 – Under normal circumstances, February is Carnival time here in the Haitian capital, including its centrally located park, Champs de Mars.

But this year, in the aftermath of the 12 January earthquake, the park is a refuge for at least 15,000 displaced people. Among them are some of the youngest survivors of the quake, and some who were born after it struck.

In support of the Haitian Government, UNICEF has provided safe water to the Champs de Mars settlement, working with the National Directorate for Water and Sanitation and non-governmental partner Action Contre la Faim. And to provide for the youngest and most vulnerable children here, a fully supported UNICEF project has been set up in a ‘baby-friendly’ tent in the park.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0130/LeMoyne
A displaced woman caresses her toddler daughter upon awakening in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, where UNICEF and its partners are promoting proper feeding of earthquake-affected infants and young children.

‘Please, keep breastfeeding’
The baby-friendly tent provides integrated nutrition and psycho-social support to displaced mothers and their infants. Four Haitian nurses and one social worker identify pregnant and lactating mothers, and invite them to visit the tent, where they can rest and find a private space to breastfeed, get safe water and receive counselling.

The Ministry of Health recently issued a warning about misleading information that breastfeeding women who have undergone a stressful or traumatic experience cannot safely nurse their infants.

"I want this message to reach all mothers of young children in Haiti: Please, keep breastfeeding. It may save your baby's life,” stated the Minister of Health, Dr. Alex Larsen. “And for those beyond our borders who want to help, thank you very much for your kindness, but please understand that sending powdered infant formula is not what we need.”

Added UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Mija Ververs: “Protecting, promoting and supporting the best possible feeding practices, with an emphasis on breastfeeding of all infants under one year, is of the highest priority.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0177/Noorani
A boy carries a box of newly arrived UNICEF supplies that he has unloaded from a truck at the Lakay Don Bosco centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Nutrition advice and supplies
In the coordinated response to the crisis in Haiti, UNICEF is the agency responsible for running a nutrition working group that provides advice on infant feeding, vitamin A supplementation and treatment of acute malnutrition and diarrhoeal dehydration.

Besides the activity in Port-au-Prince, a nutrition coordination group is being set up in the southern port city of Jacmel, and another is planned for the city of Leogane.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and its partners continue to distribute supplies for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition. These include supplementary feeding supplies such as Plumpy’nut ready-to-use therapeutic food, as well as cooking sets, family water kits, nutritional assessment equipment and medicines.

Displaced mothers and children are also receiving supplies for treatment of diarrhoea, including zinc, as well as information on inappropriate breastmilk substitutes. In addition, Early Childhood Development kits are being distributed for use by children up to six years of age. The kits contain age-appropriate educational materials and learning tools, plus water containers and soap to promote proper hygiene.



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