In Haiti, the number of severely malnourished under-fives could more than double this year, UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said on Monday. Some could die if they do not receive timely treatment.
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s lives on the Caribbean island have been increasingly affected by rising violence, a lack of access to nutrition services and clean water, as well as extreme weather conditions including hurricanes.
UNICEF has reported the disruption of health services since the global health crisis began last year, along with a sharp decline in child immunizations linked to parental concerns.
This has left fewer than one in 10 children in Haiti completely unvaccinated and nearly six in 10 insufficiently protected.
Of those who are not fully vaccinated, four in 10 live mostly in impoverished urban settings which are characterised by lack of access to essential services and violence.
Hunger and hurricane season fears
The latest food insecurity data indicates that one in four Haitians is acutely hungry. About 4.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure on the island today, including 1.9 million children, UNICEF said, adding that 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,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “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 just one year, more than twice the number of children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in #Haiti.@UNICEF is concerned about the shortage of ready-to-use therapeutic food in the coming weeks.@UNICEFHaiti @uniceflachttps://t.co/iOG5uCmiue— Jean Gough (@Jean_UNICEF) May 31, 2021
A call for support
In 2020, UNICEF, together with government and partners, treated 33,372 acutely malnourished children across Haiti, by providing nutrition supplies and medicines. In June this year, the agency expects to run out of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the treatment of acute malnutrition, owing to insufficient funding.
The agency has requested $3 million to purchase essential supplies and medicine and carry out preventive and treatment programmes, warning that without these funds, thousands of Haitian children will no longer receive life-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 preventing it before it strikes,” said 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.”
For 2021, UNICEF needs $48.9 million to meet the humanitarian needs of 1.5 million people in Haiti, including more than 700,000 children. To date, the appeal has remained almost completely underfunded.