Reaching children in Haiti with vital health services
Amid instability and uncertainty, health workers are working tirelessly.
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When Camsus Joseph became pregnant, she decided to leave Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Joseph moved back to her home village, Toirac, in the southwest of the country. For her, the instability and violence in Port-au-Prince was overwhelming. Joseph also wanted to be closer to her family. For the time being her husband, Claudy Delice, stayed behind in the capital to find work and support his family.
Just months later, in August 2021, a powerful earthquake struck Haiti. Large parts of the community where Joseph had moved back to were devastated. That included her own home, which was destroyed. She was forced to move into shelter accommodation. It was there that she gave birth to a baby girl, Anne-Djounaïka, who arrived safely. Soon after, her husband Claudy moved back to Toirac. He had lost his manufacturing job and gang violence in the capital was worsening.
Serving a community recovering from an earthquake
This region continues to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake and a longstanding lack of infrastructure. That presents significant challenges when it comes to providing primary health care services to children like Anne-Djounaïka.
With the support of UNICEF, several facilities are providing care to newborns and young children. That includes the Dispensaire du Sacre-Coeur in the seaside city of Les Cayes. The building is painted in radiant green and white, reflecting the tropical light. It’s here that health workers provide regular checkups and routine immunizations.
Nearby, in the center of Les Cayes, lies the sprawling Hopital Immaculée Conception. It’s the vaccine distribution hub for this region. Their clinic hosts a steady stream of caregivers and their children. Nurses provide the children with vaccinations for a number of preventable diseases, including polio, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
On the roof of Dispensaire du Sacre-Coeur lies an array of solar panels that have been supplied by UNICEF. They ensure that the freezers and storage units inside are kept running, regardless of whether the strained power grid is functioning.
The vaccines stored are distributed to sub-stations nearby and from there, on to more remote communities. At one of these sub-stations, in the community of Camp-Perrin, health worker Mardochée Miliance packs a cooler stocked with vaccines to the back of a motorbike. Her husband volunteers as a driver, taking the doses up an unpaved road that winds into the hills.
In the destination village of Toirac lies a makeshift church that is being used as an outreach health clinic and the vaccination site. Church pews and folding metal chairs have been turned into a waiting room, while a weighing scale hangs from a wooden beam under a religious icon.
Among the caregivers at the church is Claudy, with his daughter Anne-Djounaïka. He holds her tight as a health worker gives her a vaccine. Claudy smiles through his bushy black beard, soothing Anna if she fusses. Once Anna’s vaccination card is updated, the family head back to their shelter.
As Claudy walks through the shelter compound, which lies a few feet away from the house he had built and was destroyed by the earthquake, he reflects, “It had five rooms, enough for all 15 of our family members. I don’t know if I can return to Port-au-Prince, and I don’t know what I can do here to find work. It’s not easy.”
“When my daughter was born, I realized she is a blessing. I’m doing everything I can to offer her a good childhood. She may not have everything one hundred percent, but she will have what she needs,” says Claudy.
Challenging circumstances in Haiti's capital
Back in Port-au-Prince, health workers are faced with difficult circumstances. The aftermath of natural disasters, political instability, violent protests over price hikes, fuel shortages and continued clashes between armed groups have all served to increase the challenges.
The delivery of health services in the city has been affected, but despite the situation, health workers are going above and beyond to reach children with essential care.
On a clear July morning, a team of vaccinators managed by Médecins du Monde and supplied by UNICEF set up a mobile vaccination clinic in the shade, under a tree, in a small courtyard of a private home.
The home is in the neighborhood of Bas Delmas, which has been impacted by gang violence. In the courtyard, caregivers and children carry their vaccination cards, as the volunteer health workers administer lifesaving vaccinations. Among them is nurse Chantale Chery.
“I do feel uncomfortable when I leave the house,” she says. “But nursing is in my blood. I am in my element.”
Despite the efforts of health care heroes like Chantale Chery, many children in Haiti’s capital do not have access to the primary health services they need to live healthy and sustained lives.
In addition, the city is now seeing a resurgence of cholera, putting 1.2 million children at risk. The disease is water-borne, causing acute diarrhea and can be lethal if not treated within the first few hours. With the rising violence and insecurity, many families have no option but to drink unsafe water.
UNICEF, in coordination with national authorities and partners, is stepping up efforts to contain the cholera outbreak.