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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF and partners battle persistent child malnutrition in Haiti

© UNICEF Haiti/2012/Nybo
Jennyca, 2, is receving treatment for severe acute malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By Benjamin Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 7 March 2012 – After the January 2010 earthquake destroyed homes and infrastructure in Port-au-Prince, a number of displaced families moved to an old private airstrip in the Carrefour neighbourhood, setting up tents between old planes and helicopters.

There, they – like many Haitian families – struggled to feed their children. Unemployment in Port-au-Prince had already been high before the earthquake, which wiped out countless businesses and jobs.

The quake also exacerbated nutrition concerns. Even before the quake, nearly one third of children under age 5 were chronically malnourished, and over the half deaths among under-5 children were caused by malnutrition.

Still, there is hope.

A local UNICEF-supported NGO, FONDEFH (Fondation pour le Développement et l’Encadrement de la Famille Haïtienne), is working to reduce malnutrition among urban poor children, including those living on the Carrefour airstrip.

© UNICEF Haiti 2012/Nybo
Andremene Pierre carries her niece, Jennyca, to a UNICEF-supported clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her family is one of many now living on an abandoned airstrip in the Carrefour neighbourhood.

Jennyca’s story

Andremene Pierre carries water to her family’s tent, meandering around grounded helicopters and clothes lines strung up between the wings of airplanes and shelters.

Finally, she arrives at the tent she shares with her mother, step-father, 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old niece, Jennyca. Jennyca has been a source of worry for their entire family.

“My sister and her husband died in the earthquake,” said Ms. Pierre. “Their little girl was 3 months old and was trapped under a bed and nobody could find her. Then I went into the house and found her.”

Ms. Pierre suffers from migraines that hinder her work selling bags of drinking water. This, in turn, has made it difficult to feed the two girls.

A week ago, Jennyca became very weak. Ms. Pierre took her to the nearby FONDEFH clinic, where FONDEFH nurses treat malnourished and dehydrated children and give parents advice on improving their children’s health.

Jennyca is one of 14 children to require treatment for severe acute malnutrition, a potentially deadly condition, in the past month alone.

© UNICEF Haiti/2012/Nybo
Two-year-old Jennyca is being treated for severe acute malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported health clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Partners in the fight against malnutrition

Today, after measuring Jennyca’s progress, FONDEFH nurse Mirlene Duplessy sends Ms. Pierre home with a week’s supply of Plumpy’nut, a therapeutic food. She will have to bring Jennyca back to the tent every weekend for seven weeks. After that, barring any complications, Jennyca’s health should be restored.

“Severe malnutrition is the biggest problem we have here,” Ms. Duplessy says. “Thanks to the Plumpy’nut we receive from UNICEF, we are able to treat the children effectively.”

FONDEFH is an important partner in Haiti’s fight against child malnutrition.

“Today not only do we work with them in Port-au-Prince, but also we gave them another important grant to work in the North Department, where we have no nutrition partner and where malnutrition rates among children are among the highest in the country,” said UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Mohamed Ayoya.

“This is exactly the type of investment that will have long and lasting results in a country like Haiti,” adds Mr. Ayoya.




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