“Malnutrition is the number one cause of disease in the world. If hunger were a contagious disease, we would have already cured it.” – José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations
In Haiti, malnutrition is a direct and underlying cause of death for many children. A malnourished child bears a higher risk of dying from respiratory infections or diarrhea than a well-nourished child. Children with vitamin A deficiency are more likely to die from infection than properly nourished children. This is why HAS community outreach to prevent malnutrition is so vital.
We don’t want to wait until a child is so sick that they must come to the hospital for malnutrition treatment before reaching them.
And we know we are making a difference. Since 2012, we have seen a 36 percent reduction in the number of children that need to be admitted to the hospital for severe acute malnutrition (SAM). This reduction is due, in large part, to the community-based management of malnutrition (CMAM) model that HAS follows. CMAM allows us to treat children who are severely malnourished in their community before they develop the life-threatening complications that send them to the hospital.
At the base of our successful nutrition program is a 42-member team of community health workers (CHWs). HAS CHWs work in rural as well as urban communities, which can mean walking long distances to reach patients. Each month they hold an average of 280 community health posts where they screen more than 10,000 young children for malnutrition. Community health workers often are our first point of contact with malnourished children in the community and are crucial in following up with the families involved to ensure that those children attend the HAS nutrition program.
The CHWs also provide health products including micronutrients, vitamin A, and deworming medication, and provide vaccines on schedule. They distribute oral rehydration solution and zinc to treat diarrhea when a child shows symptoms. These community activities are key to preventing malnutrition because sick children can very quickly become severely malnourished.
In addition, HAS CHWs provide important health education to community members, whether at a health post, during a home visit, or in just talking with community members. They have been trained to provide information about the benefits of breastfeeding, appropriate foods for young children, food sources of micronutrients, the importance of hand washing and of using treated water for drinking, reproductive health, and other health-related topics.
Community health workers at HAS are not only important for identifying children with malnutrition, they play a key role in our overall illness prevention efforts as well.