Children and those who care for them are Haiti’s future, which is why we at HAS focus heavily on optimizing women’s and children’s health.
In Haiti, top threats to child health include diarrheal disease, malaria, acute respiratory infections, road traffic accidents, and malnutrition. Here’s what we’re doing about them:
- Diarrheal diseases
These illnesses, often caused by water-borne microbes, are dangerous because they can lead to many other conditions that can be fatal. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diarrhea kills about 760,000 children under five each year worldwide, and is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five years old. Conditions leading to diarrhea, such as viral gastroenteritis, are common diagnoses among HAS pediatric patients, and can lead to dire complications if left untreated.
The majority of malaria-related deaths are due to complications from lack of early treatment — and unfortunately, many children in Haiti come to the hospital with undiagnosed, advanced malarial disease. HAS is collaborating with the Haitian Ministry of Health in its efforts to eradicate malaria in Haiti by 2020. HAS considers malaria to be a possible diagnosis in every case where fever is a symptom, and we routinely rule it out with lab tests as needed before moving on to other possible diagnoses.
- Acute respiratory infections
Worldwide, pneumonia is responsible for about one-fifth of the estimated 10.6 million deaths every year of children under five. Acute respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis are by far the most common pediatrics diagnoses at HAS. We use every measure possible to address this problem. We immunize children against vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, pertussis, and the measles. Through our network of community health workers, we screen for acute respiratory infections in an effort to diagnose them early and refer them to the hospital if needed for treatment. HAS community health workers also teach parents and other caregivers about signs, symptoms, and treatment.
- Road Traffic Accidents
More and more children at HAS are requiring surgery because of injuries incurred in road traffic accidents, which are becoming more frequent in Haiti and other parts of the developing world as roads improve. Road traffic injuries are now the leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds worldwide. This is important because children differ physically, psychologically, and physiologically from adults, and therefore need special care to recover fully. HAS is responding to this increased demand for pediatric surgical care to the best of its ability with additional permanent and volunteer staff support, renovations that will expand the hospital’s triage and observation unit, and work to educate patients and community members about road safety.
This highly complex problem can be caused by a variety of things including lack of access to highly nutritious foods, poor infant feeding practices, and conditions like diarrheal diseases. Severe cases of malnutrition can be fatal. HAS works to prevent malnutrition and its complications through community-based screening and education programs. HAS screens an average of 10,000 children per month for malnutrition, and refers those exhibiting signs of malnutrition for treatment at one of our six community nutrition posts or to the hospital if there are medical complications. HAS community health workers also conduct education sessions for mothers covering the health benefits of breastfeeding and how to combine foods to ensure that children are properly nourished. About 700 children per year are treated for malnutrition through our life-saving inpatient program, which also includes parent or caregiver education.
By Dr. Maurice Toussaint
HAS Head of Pediatrics Service