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At a glance: Haiti

Logistics specialists help UNICEF deliver nutrition supplements to Haitian children

Haiti earthquake: one-year report

By Benjamin Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 17 January 2011 – It’s hard to overstate the life-saving role that nutritional supplements can play in bringing acutely malnourished children back from the brink in Haiti and around the globe.

VIDEO: 14 January 2011 - UNICEF's Gabrielle Menezes reports on efforts to deliver nutritional supplements to earthquake-affected Haitian children suffering from acute malnutrition.  Watch in RealPlayer


But without the enabling participation of logistics, such supplements could never fulfil that role. As unsung heroes of humanitarian relief, logistics specialists work behind the scenes, side-by-side with programme staff, to deliver critical aid.

And as the cholera epidemic continues to take lives in Haiti, community clinics and other health facilities still rely on UNICEF deliveries of nutritional supplements such as Plumpy’nut, a highly nutritious peanut-based paste containing multiple vitamins and minerals.

Necessary supplements

Several weeks ago, for example, when civil unrest rocked the country, the clinic in Port-au-Prince’s Canape Vert district found itself in desperate need of new supplies.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Dormino
Jeanne Baptiste Rodelin eats Plumpy'nut nutritional paste as she sits on her mother's lap at the Canape Verte community clinic in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

“There is no other food that we use to treat malnourished children,” said the clinic’s director, Dr. Margaret Mallet. “If it was not for Plumpy’nut, children would fall into a very serious medical state.”

UNICEF has delivered tens of thousands of kilograms of this necessary food supplement to the community health centres across Haiti. Each month, the Canape Vert clinic treats approximately 25 severely acutely malnourished children under the age of five. According to Dr. Mallet, malnutrition seems to have increased as people have grown poorer since the January 2010 earthquake.

Families struggle

On a recent day here, after the political turmoil had calmed down, the UNICEF warehouse bustled with workers loading trucks, counting boxes and sending out deliveries to make up for a backlog. One truck was loaded with red boxes of Plumpy’nut and sent to the Canape Vert clinic, where mothers stood quietly in line, gently cradling their children.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Dormino
A nurse gives packets of Plumpy'nut, a nutrition supplement, to Miscillite Leisson for her daughter Jeanne Baptiste Rodelin at the community clinic in Canape Verte district, located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Miscillite Leisson held her daughter Jeanne Baptiste Rodelin, who is almost three years old. Ms. Leisson initially came to the clinic at the beginning of December, when Jeanne Baptiste received her first Plumpy’nut supplements. Even though the little girl had gained over half a kilo since, her eyes were still huge in her too-thin face and she needed to continue being fed with the nut paste.

“I brought her here because I was worried about her,” said Ms. Leisson, who is pregnant with another child. “She seemed really sick. We are struggling to feed everyone in the family. I have three other much older children.”

Deliveries change lives

The clinic nurse gave Ms. Leisson 16 packets of Plumpy’nut to take home. The mother also received strict instructions to wash her hands with soap before touching and opening the foil wrapped packets. Ms. Leisson nodded and put them carefully in a plastic bag.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Dormino
Miscillite Leisson holds her daughter Jeanne Baptiste Rodelin next to their tent in a camp atop a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Then she walked back through the camp to her home, where – like hundreds of thousands in Haiti – she lives in a flimsy shelter with her entire family. Finding everyday essentials since the earthquake has been a constant struggle. Ms. Leisson said she was grateful for having the clinic close by, which probably saved her daughter’s life.

“Delivering the supplies, we are always in direct contact with our beneficiaries,” said Stephane Durand, a Haitian national and UNICEF logistics specialist – one of many who work around the clock to keep supplies moving out of the warehouse. “The greatest reward for me is to see that our efforts actually change people’s lives.”



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