Cholera threat ‘close to a death sentence' for children with severe acute malnutrition in Haiti as food insecurity worsens

In Cité Soleil, 8,000 children under five are at risk due to combined threat of severe wasting and cholera

14 October 2022
FILE PHOTO: A young child is screened for malnutrition in Cité Soleil, Haiti, May 2022
FILE PHOTO: A young child is screened for malnutrition in Cité Soleil, Haiti, May 2022

PORT-AU-PRINCE/PANAMA/NEW YORK, 14 October 2022 – Nearly 100,000 children under the age of five who are already suffering from severe acute malnutrition -also known as severe wasting - are especially vulnerable to the ongoing cholera outbreak affecting Haiti, UNICEF has warned.

At a time when much of the country is facing growing food insecurity, acutely malnourished children have weakened immune systems and they are at least three times more likely to die if they contract cholera, further reinforcing the need for urgent action to contain the disease.

Since cholera was first reported on 2 October 2022, there have been 357 suspected cases with more than half of these in children under the age of 14. Children aged between one and four years are at the greatest risk.

“The crisis in Haiti is increasingly a children’s crisis,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “One in three of those suffering from cholera is under the age of five. For children who are already weak from a lack of nutritious food, catching cholera, and suffering the effects, including diarrhoea and vomiting, is close to a death sentence. They must be identified and treated urgently, and concrete measures must be taken to prevent new cholera cases in the communities.”

In Cité Soleil, where the first cholera case was reported, up to 8,000 children under five are at risk of dying of concurrent malnutrition, wasting in this case, and cholera unless urgent action is taken to contain this threat. Thousands of families grapple with a lack of food as the disadvantaged neighbourhood is ravaged by violence and the threat of armed gangs, drastically reducing populations’ access to basic services. The already fragile nutrition situation is further compounded by inflation, soaring food prices, widespread poverty, and low purchasing power as well as the current cholera outbreak, putting the lives of thousands of malnourished children at risk.

A nutrition assessment conducted in April in Cité Soleil revealed critical levels of malnutrition, with one in five children under 5 years of age suffering from wasting. Chronic malnutrition, or stunting, is also a major problem in Haiti, affecting nearly one in four children. From July to October 2022, the support provided by UNICEF and partners in Cité Soleil has enabled to screen 3,155 children under five and provide quality care to 1,180 children with wasting.

To contain malnutrition during this cholera upsurge, UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and partners have launched active screening to identify wasting among 40,000 children under five, timely referral of wasting cases to UNICEF-supported mobile clinics or to nearest health facilities as well as provision of quality care to 8,000 children under five with wasting.

“Today, we wage a fierce war against malnutrition and cholera, two deadly threats that put children’s lives at risk,” added Maes. “Time is against us, as cholera spreads rapidly and there is a risk of the outbreak growing out of control.”

UNICEF has also made available to partners ready-to-use therapeutic food, therapeutic milk (F-75, F-100) and other supplies for the treatment of wasting and strengthened treatment capacity and adequate hospitalization capacity. UNICEF also works with community health workers (ASCP) to promote infant and young child feeding practices as well as teach households how to stop the transmission of cholera in the community.

UNICEF has made a preliminary appeal for cholera-specific response of US$22 million. So far, this appeal is unfunded.

Media contacts

Ndiaga Seck
UNICEF Burkina Faso
Tel: 00226 05 25 58 98
Laurent Duvillier
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 6169 9886

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