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The rise in childhood malnutrition in Haiti

In its recently released report, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that severe childhood malnutrition is expected to rise to more than twice this year in Haiti. Haiti has faced a series of health crises after a devastating earthquake in 2010, which destroyed the country’s infrastructure, killing approximately 230,000 and displacing more than 1.5 million people. A couple of months after the earthquake, Haiti was faced with the largest cholera epidemic ever reported in a country. The country has also battled Tuberculosis, Rabis, malaria, Lymphatic Filariasis, which led to the creation of health priorities that sought to address the public health threats. The country now faces a political crisis, difficulties with the Covid 19 pandemic, strained economic resources, and uptake in gang violence.

Malnutrition which refers to the deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of nutrients, is considered a life-threatening factor, especially in kids younger than five years. More than 86,000 children under five years in Haiti are affected this year compared to the 41,000 children reported the previous year. The report released by UNICEF states that Haiti’s more than 11 million inhabitants cannot acquire sufficient nutritious food leading to a spike in malnutrition rates in the country.

Jean Gough, who is the regional director for Latin America, and the Caribbean, for UNICEF, told the press that they only had a month’s particular food paste supply for the affected children. They are seeking to receive 3 million dollars by the end of June this year. She was saddened to see the number of children suffering from malnutrition and is afraid that some may not recover unless they receive good treatment on time, which is difficult because of the low supply of necessities and the low number of people visiting the hospital, leading to a drop of the children immunized, hence the call for more services.

Some officials have reported that Covid 19 pandemic has affected the delivery of health services due to delay in vaccine deliveries and public hesitancy to adhere to the set guidelines to combat the virus, and reluctance to visit the health centers when feeling unwell. This has led to a decrease in child immunization from 28% to 44%, causing an increase in diphtheria. Health workers are preparing for a possible measles outbreak in Haiti. One of the Nurses in the Southern town of Saint-Jean-du-Sud said that their main aim was to immunize 80% of the children in the area. Still, they had barely accomplished 50% of their objective.

According to the report released by UNICEF, it is said that about 4.4 million of the more than 11 million citizens of Haiti lack sufficient food, including 1.9 million children. A grandmother to an 11 months old baby admitted to Les Cayes explains how her granddaughter, Denise Joseph, never feeds well. She also says to the press how she faces difficulties providing for the baby since her mother is also sick. She struggles with her economic activity as she has not harvested any beans, corn, or potatoes for a year. These are among many people affected by the ongoing malnutrition, economic activities difficulties, and political instability.

Jean Gough says that more outreach services are needed to encourage more people to visit the community health centers as the drop in childhood immunization is worrying. A 27-year-old, Franceline Mileon, is among the few people visiting the health centers for the first time after hearing a health official with a bullhorn in her neighborhood announcing the commencement of a vaccination program. She sits on the bench holding her baby as she waits for the nurse to attend to her baby.

Even though there has been significant improvement and accomplishment in the health sector recorded in Haiti’s urban and rural areas, the country remains fragile as there remains a substantial shortfall in the number of resources required for water and sanitation and infrastructure for health services. The United Nations Children’s Fund says that they need approximately $49 million this year to help improve the humanitarian needs in Haiti. They state that very little of this amount has been pledged. $5.2 million of that amount is speculated to go towards nutrition and $4.9 million for health, including childhood immunizations. Therefore, the organization is urging more people, agencies, countries, and other well-wishers to support them by pledging any amount to attain the humanitarian needs of the people in Haiti, especially the children.

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