Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Combating Malnutrition in Haiti

By Tyler Marshall

International Medical Corps this week began delivering high-energy biscuits and ready-to-use food supplements to children’s homes in Port-au-Prince, marking the start of a three-month project to head off a possible crisis of malnutrition among orphans and other vulnerable children.

The first shipment, to the House of the Children of God home in northern Port-au-Prince, was for the home’s fifty-three resident children, with nearly two-thirds of them younger than three years old.

The home’s director, Pierre Rebe Blain, welcomed the shipment, calling it “extremely helpful”.

“This is what we need to complete the meals we provide,” Blain said. He added that he had been forced to refuse shelter to 80 children per month recently because he didn’t have enough food. While it is too early to assess the earthquake’s impact on malnutrition rates, International Medical Corps’ efforts focus on preventing deterioration among the country’s most vulnerable populations.

Most residents at his home, Blain said, are what he calls “half-orphans” – children being cared for by one remaining parent who were then forced to give their child up because they couldn’t sustain a normal household. The remaining parent (most often the mother) is allowed one visit every two months. “More would be too disruptive,” he explained.

A tour of the facility turned up three infants that International Medical Corps' nutritionist identified as potentially malnourished. They were immediately referred to a therapeutic center for special treatment.

The initial delivery was in many ways a pilot run and any snags were a reminder of the challenges presented when delivering assistance to victims. The International Medical Corps nutrition team were held up for nearly two hours by the city’s grid-locked traffic and a demonstration -- ironically, protesting the lack of food distribution.

While that and other minor delays did not compromise the project, they were a reminder of the enormity of the task ahead.

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