The number of children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Haiti could more than double this year, warned UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jean Gough, who concluded a seven-day field visit to the country.
Over 86,000 Haitian children under five are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, compared to 41,000 children last year and could die if they don’t get urgent assistance. UNICEF is alarmed by the spike in malnutrition over the past year and is concerned about the shortage of ready-to-use therapeutic food in the coming weeks.
“In just one year, more than twice the number of children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in Haiti,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “In the hospitals,I was saddened to see so many children suffering from malnutrition. Some will not recover unless they receive treatment in time.”
Children’s lives in Haiti are increasingly under threat by the combined effect of the pandemic, the rising violence, lack of access to preventive nutrition services and clean water, and unhygienic environments, as well as extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change, such as hurricanes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, disruption of health services and parental fear led to a sharp decline in child immunization rates last year, ranging from 28 per cent for some vaccine antigens to 44 per cent for others. According to UNICEF, 9.7 per cent of children in Haiti have not received any vaccination and 58 per cent are not fully vaccinated. Of those who are not fully vaccinated, 42 per cent live mostly in impoverished metropolitan areas, where there is a lack of access to essential services for children, and the most impacted by violence.
This drop in child immunization has resulted in rising numbers of diphtheria cases and a higher risk of a measles outbreak this year. These unvaccinated children are also more vulnerable to suffer and die from malnutrition.
Acute malnutrition among children under five has increased by 61 per cent during the last year in Haiti. In 2021, about 217,000 Haitian children could suffer from acute malnutrition compared to 134,000 children during the same period last year, according to humanitarian needs overview (HNO) estimates. In the first three months of this year alone, the number of admissions of severely acute malnourished children in health facilities across Haiti has significantly increased by 26 per cent compared to the past year.
One in four Haitians is currently facing acute food insecurity. From March to June 2021, about 4.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure in Haiti, including 1.9 million children, according to Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) estimates. The upcoming hurricane season is likely to worsen the access to nutritious food in the coming months.
“Severe acute malnutrition can and should be treated right now to save children’s lives in Haiti,” stressed Jean Gough. “We can’t look the other way and ignore one of the least funded humanitarian crises in the region. Without additional, urgent funding in the next few weeks, the life-saving treatment we are providing against malnutrition will be discontinued and some children will be at risk of dying.”
In 2020, UNICEF, together with government and partners, treated 33,372 acutely malnourished children across Haiti, by providing nutrition supplies and medicines. In June 2021, UNICEF will be running out of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for treatment of acute malnutrition due to insufficient funding. UNICEF urgently needs US$3 million to purchase essential supplies and medicine and carry out preventive and treatment programmes. Without these funds, thousands of Haitian children will no longer receive this live-saving assistance.
“In an environment as precarious as Haiti, every child’s life we save today can be in danger again tomorrow. Unless we move beyond just treating malnutrition –to preventingit before it strikes,” said Jean Gough. “Increased family healthcare support at the community level will boost confidence in routine immunization and enable every home to access nutrition services every day. I was encouraged to see parents vaccinating their children in the health centers. Well-nourished, healthy, and vaccinated children will get better grades at school and become more productive adults. Building Haiti’s future in the long runstarts by curbingchronic malnutrition now.”
For 2021, UNICEF is seeking US$48.9 million to meet the humanitarian needs of 1.5 million people in Haiti including over 700,000 children, a situation which has been significantly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, this humanitarian appeal has remained almost completely underfunded.
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