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Proper nutrition a life-saving intervention for children endangered by cholera

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2546/Marco Dormino
Nadège, 16, sits with Chief Nurse Cristina Benetti, who is feeding malnourished six-month-old Christelle Jean Pierre with ready-to-use formula, at a UNICEF-supported baby-friendly tent set up by the Italian NGO AVSI.

by Benjamin Steinlechner


Port-au-Prince, 7 December - Cite Soleil is one of Port-au-Prince most impoverished neighborhoods. Since the earthquake in January 2010, makeshift tented IDP camps have filled the landscape; many tents are made from plastic, many are little houses made with corrugated iron. But the blue UNICEF baby tent where Nadege Jean Pierre sits is special.


This blue tent is one of the baby tents that UNICEF has set up in the many IDP camps so mothers and small children can have a secure place to go during the day, a place where mothers and pregnant women receive counseling on nutrition, infant feeding, and care, and children are given food, oral rehydration salts (ORS), and zinc tablets if they have diarrhea.


Nadege is only 16, but she has been burdened with adult responsibilities since her cousin Cherline fell sick with cholera three days earlier. She is the only person in her family that can take care of her cousin’s six-month-old girl. Nadege has no money, and could hardly find enough food to feed herself, when suddenly she had also to find food for her cousin’s little girl.


Nadege is still a child, and doesn’t really know how to look after little Christelle, who is malnourished. Nadege is also afraid for herself.


“In difficult circumstances, such as this cholera outbreak, we have to pay special attention to the` nutrition needs of infants,” says Dr Mohamed Ag Ayoya, Chief of Nutrition with UNICEF Haiti. “To this end, UNICEF strongly advocates for and supports the implementation of the guidelines on infant feeding in emergencies.”


Working closely with partners on the ground, UNICEF supports mothers with appropriate information, assistance, and encouragement to breastfeed their infants and young children. However, there are instances when breastfeeding is not possible; this is when the distribution of donated free or subsidized breast milk substitutes is essential.


To avoid this and to ensure that needy mothers and families can provide safe milk to their babies, UNICEF is supporting the Haitian Ministry of Health to make available ready-to-use infant formula in all baby tents.


“This is a life-saving intervention for infants who have either lost their mothers or are separated from them because of cholera,” says Ayoya.


In addition to providing ready-to-use infant formula, UNICEF’s nutritionists and their partners are working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Population to spread the message that even during the current cholera epidemic there is no better food for infants than breast milk.


This is particularly important in the context of a country where women who have been sick with cholera shy away from feeding their babies with breast milk because of fear they will infect them with the disease.


“Transmission of cholera through mother’s milk is absolutely impossible,” emphasizes Cristina Benetti Chief Nurse at the baby tent in Cite Soleil.


While Christelle’s mother recovers in the hospital, Nadege is confident she will be able to care for her cousin’s infant at the UNICEF baby tent.


“I’m so happy that I can now take care of the child,” says Nadege.


For more information:

Jean-Jacques Simon, jsimon@unicef.org, UNICEF Haiti

Tamar Hahn, thahn@unicef.org, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean





UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.


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