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At a glance: Haiti

New survey shows rates of child malnutrition are decreasing in Haiti

© UNICEF Haiti/2012
(Left-right) UNICEF Global Chief of Nutrition Werner Schultink speaks with UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, Haiti's First Lady Sophia Martelly, and Minister of Health Dr. Florence Guillaume Duperval. Ms. Martelly's office has led the 'Aba Grangou' ('Down with Hunger') programme, which aims to tackle malnutrition and hunger in Haiti.

By Suzanne Suh

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 18 June 2012 – In March, slightly more than two years after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) supported the Ministry of Health’s national SMART nutrition survey.

SMART – which stands for Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions – is an improved survey method based on the two most vital, basic public health indicators to assess the severity of a humanitarian crisis: nutritional status of children under age 5 and mortality rate of the population.

These indicators are useful for assessing needs and prioritizing resources, as well as for monitoring the extent to which a relief system is meeting the needs of the population and, thus, the understanding overall impact of the relief response.

SMART was initiated mainly to improve the technical capacity of implementing partners to carry out, analyze, interpret and report on survey findings in a standardized manner to ensure reliability of nutrition and health data. SMART’s main goal is to make the survey process as easy as possible for field staff and as reliable as possible for decision-makers. It is recognized as a critical step in improving worldwide emergency assessment.

A long history of undernutrition

Even before the earthquake on January 12, 2010, rates of undernutrition among children in Haiti were among the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean region. In 2005, one out of every three children under five was stunted, or chronically undernourished; one out of 10 was wasted, or acutely malnourished; and six out of 10 were anaemic. In addition, about one fourth of all children were born with low birth weight.

© UNICEF Haiti/2012
UNICEF Regional Health Advisor for Latin America and the Caribean Dr. Enrique Paz speaks about the UNICEF-supported national SMART nutrition survey in Haiti.

Shortly after the earthquake, UNICEF and partners supported the Government of Haiti in providing earthquake-affected families with crucial humanitarian assistance. Emergency nutrition interventions were provided to prevent and treat child undernutrition and reduce the risk of child mortality. These included education and counselling on optimal infant and young child feeding practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding. UNICEF also provided micronutrient supplementation for mothers and children, including iron and folic acid supplements, multiple micronutrient powders and tablets, vitamin A supplements, and deworming tablets. UNICEF also supported the integrated management of severe acute malnutrition.

Since then, these interventions have been delivered across the country through 198 baby tents and baby-friendly centres – safe spaces where mothers can breastfeed, which also provide formula for orphans and children whose mothers were not able to breastfeed. These interventions have also been provided at 24 hospital and 290 community-based therapeutic feeding programs for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and at mass distribution campaigns. UNICEF has also supported basic maternal and child health services (in particular immunization) in health facilities, and has provided safe drinking water and hygiene and sanitation services in camps.

Reducing hunger and malnutrition

The results of the SMART survey in Haiti showed some surprisingly positive results: a decrease in the prevalence of malnutrition levels in children aged 6-59 months, as compared to the malnutrition levels in the 2005-2006 Demographic and Health Survey. Stunting rates decreased to 23.4 per cent and acute and severe malnutrition decreased to 4.1 and 1 per cent, respectively. The prevalence of underweight children also decreased from 18 per cent in 2005-2006 to 10.6 per cent in 2012.

“These results show that we have been efficient, and when I say ‘we’, I mean all of us together, all the partners,” said Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “These results also call for continued attention and action to support the country in sustaining this success and moving towards MDG 1,” she said, referring to the Millennium Development Goal on reducing the number of people suffering from poverty and hunger.



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