News article

Posted on Mon, Dec. 01, 2008

Haiti launches malnutrition survey

By JACQUELINE CHARLES

As more severely malnourished children and their mothers trickled into
Port-au-Prince Monday from Haiti’s southeastern region to obtain life-saving
treatment, the Ministry of Health and an international anti-hunger aid
organization launched a national survey of children’s nutritional health.

The door-to-door survey is the first of its kind since the 1970s, officials
say, and is critical to answering the lingering question: How widespread and
acute is malnutrition among children in hurricane-battered Haiti?

The survey also comes as the Ministry of Health seeks to open a clinic in Baie
d’Orange, an isolated mountain village, where 26 children died from severe
malnutrition and dozens more from the town and neighboring villages were
hospitalized in recent weeks.

”The study is very important in the current situation, as it will give us a
baseline . . . and it can guide the geographical priorities for the treatment
sites,” Dr. Teresa de la Torre, the nutrition and health specialist for UNICEF
Haiti, said in a telephone interview.

On Monday, just days after Doctors Without Borders returned nine severely
malnourished children to their homes in the Baie d’Orange region, a nurse with
the humanitarian aid organization drove into Port-au-Prince with three more
children from Mapou, a neighboring town.

Max Cosci, the head of Doctors Without Borders/Belgium mission, said the
children were not as close to death at the previous group “but they are
malnourished.”

For more than three weeks now, the mission has been going door-to-door in the
southeast surveying the nutritional health of children after growing concern
that the severe malnutrition problem may be more widespread than Baie d’Orange
and its surrounding villages.

Though Doctors Without Borders have yet to come upon a case as extreme as Baie
d’Orange elsewhere in the southeast, Cosci said they did find another pocket of
moderately malnourished children in a town where they least expected it.

”We were sure we were not going to find anything there,” he said. “There is
a town, markets for people to buy food. But we found a good group of kids in
moderate malnutrition.”

Such discoveries has sounded the alarm for Haiti’s Health Ministry and the
international donor community. They agreed to do the survey even before a
series of two hurricanes and two tropical storms pounded the country in less
than a month this summer. The county was already realing from a food crisis
that sparked days of deadly rioting when the first storm hit in August.

Now, the compounded crisis makes it more urgent to find out how children are
being impacted, officials say.
By surveying Haiti, province-by-province, the plan is to have a complete
”nutritional picture of the country,” said Olivier Le Guillou, country
director for Action Against Hunger, which is conducting the survey in
cooperation with the Ministry of Health.

The survey is being paid for by UNICEF and the European Community Humanitarian
Aid Office. Le Guillou said it will provide a more accurate picture of the
rapid assesments a number of aid groups have done in recent weeks. Those
assesments show that the malnutrition rates have skyrocketed in
hurricane-affected areas, with severe rates five to six times higher in
isolated hardest-hit communities like Baie d’Orange.

”We are not saying that what they are doing is not good, but it’s less
accurate for sure,” Le Guillou said.
Mari Tolliver, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, said the U.S. Agency for
International Development “is aware of differences in the methodologies used
during the rapid assessments to assess the impact of food insecurity.

“However, we do not think that these differences diminish the gravity of the
situation in certain areas of the country that were particularly hard-hit by
the storms.”

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