UNICEF says malnutrition rises among children in Haiti amid pandemic


Les CAYES, Haiti (AP) – Severe acute childhood malnutrition is expected to more than double this year in Haiti as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, a spike in violence and dwindling resources, a report by UNICEF.

More than 86,000 children under 5 could be affected, up from 41,000 last year, said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“I was saddened to see so many children suffering from malnutrition,” she said after a week-long visit to Haiti. “Some will only recover if they get treatment on time.

Severe acute malnutrition is considered a potentially fatal disease.

In a slightly less dangerous category, acute malnutrition among children under 5 in Haiti has increased by 61%, with some 217,000 children expected to suffer this year, up from 134,000 last year.

Overall, according to UNICEF, about 4.4 million of Haiti’s over 11 million people lack adequate food, including 1.9 million children.

Gough told The Associated Press during a recent visit to a hospital in the southern town of Les Cayes that UNICEF only had a month’s supply of special food paste given to children in need and was looking for $ 3 million by the end of June.

Officials said the pandemic had also disrupted health services, with childhood immunization rates rising from 28% to 44%, depending on the vaccine. The decrease has led to an increase in diphtheria cases as health workers prepare for a measles outbreak expected this year.

UNICEF noted that unvaccinated children are also more likely to die from malnutrition.

Lamir Samedi, a nurse who works at a community health center in the southern town of Saint-Jean-du-Sud, said the goal was to vaccinate 80% of the area’s children, but they didn’t not yet reached 50%.

Among the children hospitalized is Denise Joseph, 11 months old, who lay quietly in a cradle in Les Cayes after being diagnosed with tuberculosis two weeks ago.

“She never eats,” said her grandmother, Marie-Rose Emile, who is looking after the child since her mother is also ill. Emile struggles to provide for the baby, claiming she barely harvested beans, corn or potatoes this year.

Gough, the head of UNICEF, said she was discouraged by the appalling number of malnutrition and the decline in childhood immunizations. She said more outreach services are needed as there aren’t enough people visiting community health centers.

Among those visiting a health center for the first time was Franceline Mileon, 27, who brought her young child after hearing a health official with a megaphone in her neighborhood announce that a health care program vaccination had started. She sat on a bench, pampering her baby, waiting for a nurse to weigh her.

Overall, UNICEF said it needed nearly $ 49 million this year to meet humanitarian needs in Haiti, adding that little of that amount had been pledged. The agency $ 5.2 million of this amount would go to nutrition and $ 4.9 million to health, including childhood immunizations.


Associated Press video reporter Pierre Richard Luxama reported this story in Les Cayes and AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.


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