Later this week, much of the world will be focused on World Health Day. Here at HAS, we’ve decided to highlight childhood malnutrition as we think about global health because it is a chronic problem that is alarmingly worse this year in Haiti.
As an Associated Press story in today’s Washington Post states, the United Nations is reporting that the incidence of hunger and malnutrition in Haiti is spiking, in part because of the vicious hurricane season (Isaac and Sandy) that damaged crops in the fall. Unfortunately, this isn’t news to us at HAS. In fact, during community screenings in February, HAS’ community health workers saw 4.5 times the number of children with severe acute malnutrition as usual at that time of year and nearly 7 times as many children with moderate acute malnutrition as they did in January.
The UN’s World Food Program has predicted a sharp increase in household food insecurity in Haiti this year. Adding to the effects of the hurricanes, prolonged drought since then also has led to decreased crop production across Haiti. According to the Haiti Humanitarian Action Plan 2013, corn production has dropped by nearly 50 percent since 2011.
It is an annual reality in Haiti that acute malnutrition is inextricably linked to seasonal changes in access to food. Typically May is the end of dry season; food storages from the previous season are depleted and the new harvest of food and cash crops will not be ready until June. As a result, many children become acutely malnourished.
But at HAS this year, the dramatic increase in malnutrition cases we’ve seen already is shocking. HAS community health workers expect to see this many children with acute malnutrition in May – never in February.
In an effort to improve nutritional status in its service area, HAS continues its efforts to screen children for malnutrition and refer acutely malnourished children for treatment to either the hospital or one of HAS’ six outpatient nutrition treatment sites. Prior to the start of HAS’ nutrition program, all children with acute malnutrition were treated on an inpatient basis. By having to travel up to 8 hours for treatment and by mothers having to spend the duration of the weeks-long treatment in the hospital with their child, many families were not able to receive timely care. Since establishing nutrition treatment centers at the community level, HAS is now helping to address barriers to care for nutritional services by making it available on an outpatient basis near the patients’ homes. This spring, HAS is ramping up efforts in areas with more vulnerable households as the next harvest of food and cash crops are not expected before June 2013.
To add some background for those who aren’t deeply familiar with the impact of malnutrition on a child: To put it simply, malnutrition has a severe impact on a child’s health, including increased risk of mortality and cognitive impairment. But the repercussions of a malnourished child extend much farther than their physical development; it disrupts their education, ultimately hindering community development.
You can help. Investing in the health of children is investing in the health of a community and future of a country. Help us in our ongoing efforts to prevent and fight childhood malnutrition in honor of World Health Day. And help us prepare for the spike in need over the coming months.
$15 will supply 500 children with Vitamin A supplements
$75 will purchase enough micronutrient sprinkles to help supplement 100 children for 30 days
$250 will pay one community health worker for one month
$500 will help support the cost of one child in HAS’ Nutrition Stabilization Unit for one week
Be sure to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @HASHaiti. We will be reporting on childhood malnutrition all week, featuring stories and profiles of our community health workers, so please continue to follow our blog.