The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Haiti has warned that thousands of children are at risk of dying of acute malnutrition if they are not given adequate therapeutic care, which has been thwarted by violence related to the armed gangs.
Through a statement, the international organization pointed out that the situation leaves one in 20 children living in Cité Soleil, a commune devastated by violence in Port-au-Prince, at risk of dying of severe acute malnutrition.
According to the latest data available from Unicef, approximately 20% of children under the age of five in Cité Soleil suffer from severe or moderate acute malnutrition, five percentage points above the emergency threshold established by the World Health Organization (WHO). If the violence continues, these figures may continue to grow.RELATED
“We cannot sit idly by and watch children suffer from malnutrition and its complications,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “Thousands of children are at risk of dying and most of the health clinics where they live are closed, preventing them from receiving proper health and nutritional care. The violence must stop in Cité Soleil so that malnourished children can receive the medical care they need to survive and grow,” he added.
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An evaluation carried out in April 2022 alerted Unicef to the alarming nutritional status of the children of the commune. Since then, an uptick in violence in early July is further restricting access to basic health services for children and families. Food insecurity caused by inflation, rising food prices and pre-existing socio-economic hardships have also driven this recent rise in malnutrition cases in Cité Soleil.
Unicef and the Ministry of Health have already prepositioned ready-to-use therapeutic foods, therapeutic milk and essential medicines and are supporting community health workers to scale up screening and referral of malnutrition cases. So far, 9,506 children have been screened for acute malnutrition and 1,918 malnourished children have received life-saving treatment.
Since July 8, a new flare-up of violence has broken out as rival gangs wage fierce battles in Cité Soleil, a municipality of a quarter of a million people. According to the UN, between July 8 and 17, 2022, more than 471 people were killed, injured or missing. Some 3,000 people have also fled their homes, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, while at least 140 houses have been destroyed or burned.
This new wave of violence has forced hundreds to be displaced from their homes. However, only part of the population has left. Most of the population of Cité Soleil remains trapped and lives under siege as the conflict rages in the streets. Children and families also have to deal with a lack of access to food and water. Access to basic services such as health centers has already been drastically reduced in Cité Soleil, where only 4% of the population use public health centers and 64% are served by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières.
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To prevent further deterioration of the nutritional status of mothers and children, UNICEF is supporting the provision of the following services: treatment of acute malnutrition, micronutrient supplementation and promotion, protection and support of infant and young child feeding practices , deworming and immunization, zinc supplementation during episodes of diarrhea at health facility and community levels.
“Thousands of families and their children who remained in Cité Soleil have urgent health and nutritional needs, as parents and caregivers are no longer able to go to work in other areas of Port-au-Prince to ensure access to food for their children. Families who fled their homes left behind all their belongings and children do not have access to all their basic rights, such as health, nutrition and education,” said Maes.
Since July 20, Unicef has delivered nearly one million liters of drinking water to meet the urgent needs of 15,000 people every day, distributed 500 hygiene kits to serve 2,500 people, and deployed two mobile health clinics in neighborhoods. de Bois Neuf and Belekou de Cité Soleil, provide medical and nutritional care to more than 500 people, mostly women and children.
Outside of Cité Soleil, UNICEF provided 100 mattresses, clothing and almost 700 gallons of drinking water to displaced families, assisted 800 children with psychosocial support activities, and provided medical care to 180 children through a mobile health and nutrition clinic.
Unicef called on all parties to refrain from the use of violence and ensure that women and children have access to basic services. “Seven months into the year have passed and Unicef still urgently needs $64.6 million to reach more than half a million children with humanitarian aid in Haiti,” he said in the statement.
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