Today, as HAS celebrates World Immunization Week with the World Health Organization, we also celebrate the parents of our Artibonite community, who greatly value the vaccines that protect their children from deadly diseases. HAS community health workers and parents work together to ensure that vaccines will get to those who need them most—infants and children, HAS’s smallest patients. And with your help, these babies are beating the odds. Back when HAS was founded in 1956, for instance, the rates of tetanus in infants was sky high. At the time, many newborns in Haiti were dying of this now easily preventable disease. Fast forward to 2013, when over 67% of babies in HAS’s service area get the vaccinations they need—and tetanus in newborns is now extremely rare. With your support, our community health workers, parents, and our community as a whole are winning the fight against deadly but preventable diseases—and saving the lives of countless babies every year.
Just this past week, a group of about 20 mothers arrived to have their babies vaccinated at an HAS health post in the remote, mountainous area known as Bastien. Sitting on benches under a mango tree, the mothers listened attentively to Marius, an HAS-trained community health worker, as he led an education session about the importance of hygiene and how vulnerable babies’ immune systems are to many diseases. Marius has spent nearly three decades in this role, and is well aware of how important it is for parents to absorb and retain this potentially lifesaving knowledge. Not only did Marius lecture on keeping infants healthy, he engaged the mothers in a dialogue that encouraged them to “teach” the facts back to him—further reinforcing the information for the entire group.
Marius’s lecture also covered the importance of protecting water sources from contamination—a sobering reminder that as Haiti’s rainy season begins this month, the difficulty of accessing clean water means that cholera will continue to threaten the health of all Haitians, especially infants and children. Marius concluded with a call to action: “Each one of us must examine our environment and ask ourselves if it’s clean, if it’s working for us. We must protect our health and the health of others. We are connected; if one of us gets sick, we are all at risk.”
The group then moved on to what the mothers had come for, the immunizations that will protect the lives of their young children. “Vaccines are lifesaving,” Marius says. “If we are negligent and don’t give our children a polio vaccine, for example, what happens? …Vaccines save lives, just like good hygiene saves lives.”
The mothers patiently waited as their names were called. The infants, some of them tiny newborns, received vaccines that will protect them against life-threatening diseases—diseases like polio, tuberculosis, measles, and tetanus, to name just a few. These are diseases that many of us will never have to worry about, for ourselves or for the children in our lives. But for these mothers, a trip to the Bastien clinic can mean the difference between life and death for their children. And as you can see, these moms are so very grateful! After her baby received a vaccine, one mom, Louie, smiled and said, “Thank you so much, HAS, for all you do!”