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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF Executive Director brings a message of hope to Haiti's most vulnerable

By Jean Panel Fanfan

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 16 December 2010 – In a surprise visit to Haitian capital, Executive Director Anthony Lake yesterday reaffirmed the commitment of UNICEF and other UN agencies to continue the fight against the cholera epidemic here, and encouraged Haitians themselves to take action against the disease.

VIDEO: 15 December 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake's visit to Haiti.  Watch in RealPlayer


Accompanied by UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, Mr. Lake met with several prominent figures in the fight against cholera, including Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas, President of CARITAS and coordinator of ‘Religions for Peace,’ and William Pape, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization GHESKIO, which manages cholera treatment centres in several of the city’s poorest camps for displaced people.

Bishop Dumas emphasized the need to coordinate the humanitarian response to the epidemic.

“In the religious community we are committed to mobilize people, to raise awareness about the usefulness of putting into practice the messages of health authorities,” he said, citing the main points of a broad programme of social mobilization that will involve Catholic, Protestant and Voodoo religious leaders in Haiti.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2712/Dormino
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans speak with a boy being treated for cholera at a UNICEF-assisted health centre in the impoverished Cité l’Eternel neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Pape expressed his appreciation for the continued support of UNICEF and other humanitarian partners, without whom he said the GHESKIO centre could not provide the health care that camp residents need.

Health and sanitation concerns

Mr. Lake met with several cholera patients at the treatment centre and talked with camp residents to hear their concerns – and to explain that cholera can be prevented by using hygienic measures and safe water.

“However, it’s not enough to wash their hands and use latrines,” he noted. “When they’re sick, people should also come to a centre like this and fight against the stigma of cholera. Because people are afraid to come to the centres, thinking they will get sick, and are afraid to touch people who have cholera.”

Mr. Lake also listened intently to the health and sanitation concerns voiced by patients and residents sequestered inside the large tent at the treatment centre. On a metal cot nearby, a seven-year-old boy lay cradled in his mother’s arms, one of more than 30 patients at the centre.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2710/Dormino
A girl sleeps while receiving intravenous fluids for cholera, at the UNICEF-assisted GHESKIO treatment centre in the Cité l’Eternel neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

“We must remember that the people most vulnerable to cholera are the children, and especially the children in the poorest neighbourhoods. And that is our focus,” said Mr. Lake.

Cholera-prevention activities

Across Haiti, at facilities like GHESKIO centre, doctors, nurses and other health-care practitioners are treating the sick with oral rehydration salts and antibiotics provided by UNICEF and others, including the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Normally, GHESKIO provides health care mainly for people affected by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients. However, since the cholera outbreak began in October, the NGO has treated more than 550 people for the waterborne disease.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2708/Dormino
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake speaks with a child being treated for cholera in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The centre Mr. Lake visited is part of a network of 72 cholera treatment centres and units established across Haiti by UNICEF and its partners. UNICEF is also supporting cholera-prevention and hygiene-promotion activities at some 5,000 schools, 300 child-friendly nutrition centres and more than 700 residential care centres.

Meeting with patients

Inside the large GHESKIO tent in Port-au-Prince, heavy with the midday air, Mr. Lake went from patient to patient, quietly chatting with the children and their parents.

“I wanted to come here and meet with some of the patients and shake hands and show that it’s perfectly safe,” he said. “The people that I just met in this tent are just regular people who happen to have cholera. Thank God, all of them are getting better.”



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