malnutrition in haitiHaiti is a small island, yet it is the western hemisphere’s most impoverished nation. One of the many ways that poverty affects Haiti is through hunger. In 2015, 22 percent of Haitian children were suffering from malnutrition. Health is something that affects everyday life and is reflective of a country’s standard of living. In other words, learning about how malnutrition affects Haiti is important for understanding poverty and the development of this country.

Haiti’s History

Haiti became independent from the French government in 1804. This formerly colonized nation was the first country to achieve freedom through a slave rebellion. When Haiti became independent, most western countries (such as the U.S.) did not recognize the nation’s independence. This prevented any foreign trade from occurring with Haiti.

The first country to acknowledge Haitian independence was France; however, the acknowledgment was met with conditions. The French claimed that their economy would be hurt due to a loss in slave labor and, because of this, Haitians would have to repay the French with 100 million francs. The debt was not fully repaid until 1887 and, consequently, created negative effects on Haiti’s economy.

The country also regularly encounters natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Since 1998, Haiti has faced 10 hurricanes in addition to other tropical storms. With a lack of infrastructure, every environmental disaster takes a large toll on the economy. After the 2010 earthquake, 1.5 million Haitians were displaced and the country was said to have faced $7.8 billion in losses.

The Role of Nutrition

Today, Haiti has a GDP per capita of $870, and 59 percent of the population works for less than 2 dollars per day. With such high rates of poverty, it’s no surprise that the country also suffers from malnutrition. There are some key facts to understanding how malnutrition affects Haiti.

  • Approximately 40 percent of the country is malnourished. In fact, one in five children is malnourished. In addition, 80 percent of rice, the country’s major food source, is imported, thus creating a large dependence on foreign exchange.
  • Agriculture in Haiti is also dependent upon external factors. Only 10 percent of the land is irrigated, making consistent rain a necessity for food production. When there is a drought, food production is affected. Lack of adequate crops increases malnutrition.
  • One-third of Haitian women suffer from anemia. Anemia is an illness that can be caused by iron and vitamin deficiency. It prevents oxygen from flowing through the blood to muscles and tissues, but it can be easily prevented through proper nutrition.
  • In rural areas, fewer than half of the people in Haiti have access to clean drinking water. Water is often contaminated. In 2010, the country faced a globally infamous earthquake. When U.N. workers arrived to provide aid, they accidentally created a cholera outbreak that spread quickly through the water. Since then, 770 thousand Haitians have been affected by the illness, creating an added risk to water consumption.

Who is Helping?

While the majority of Haitians still suffer from malnutrition, progress has been made. Hands up for Haiti is one nonprofit that is aiming to reduce issues surrounding nutrition in three different ways. The first way is through a supplement called Medika Mamba, a nutritional pill that is primarily nut-based and is high in calories. The pill is provided to 600 children each year on the bases of medical evaluation. The second way is through educational programs that teach locals how to grow small plots of food to support their families. Lastly, the organization offers centers with professionally trained medics to treat illnesses relating to malnutrition.

Understanding how malnutrition affects Haiti is key to recognizing the effects of poverty. The country’s long-standing history of natural disasters and colonization has affected its current economic situation as well as the health of the nation. However, nonprofits such as Hands up for Haiti have been making large strides within the country, giving a hopeful outlook to the future of this nation.

Photo: Flickr

Cholera Outbreaks in IraqCholera outbreaks are not altogether uncommon in Iraq. The bacterial infection is endemic to the region and reported cases usually spike every two to three years around November. Due to this regularity, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has developed a multidimensional approach to combating these outbreaks—but this year has been different.

An unprecedented at-risk population has emerged, as more than 250,000 Syrian refugees have fled their homes to Iraq at the same time that Iraqis are becoming internally displaced by the ongoing conflict with ISIS in the north. Funding has been diverted away from municipal services to pay for defense, and authorities have been unable to fully address community wells that have been contaminated by sewage from flood drainage.

More than 2,000 cases of cholera have been reported over the last three months, including six that have been fatal. One in five of these cases affect young children, and many are being diagnosed in the 62-refugee and Internally Displaced Person camps across the country.

Health officials may also face being inundated with additional patients due to the millions of Shi’ite Muslims expected to make their pilgrimage to Iraq in observance of Arbaeen, a ritual marking the end of mourning over the death of Hussein. When these travelers return home, there is a good chance they will take the bacteria with them, and this will compound an outbreak that has already spread to Syria, Kuwait and Bahrain.

“There is, unfortunately, a high risk that cholera will reach more areas affecting marginalized and displaced children, women and their families, in particular,” UNICEF Representative in Iraq, Peter Hawkins, said. In response, the Health Ministry, UNICEF and the World Health Organization are ramping up their campaigns to vaccinate refugees, treat patients and educate communities on practices that will reduce the risk of transmission.Cholera_outbreaks

In late October, health officials trained 1,300 vaccinators and 650 social mobilizers to carry out a first-phase vaccination deployment. Since early November, more than 91 percent of targeted Syrian refugees received the oral vaccine and will receive a second dose by the end of December. The second round will guard against cholera for at least five years. It was a desperately needed victory for Iraq, but the World Health Organization stressed that vaccinations should not divert attention from other prevention measures.

“We need to intensify health promotion and education to help communities protect themselves,” WHO Representative, Atlaf Musani, said.

To that end, UNICEF has supported a massive public education campaign. Cholera prevention methods are being sent out on social media, in text messages, by volunteers taking pamphlets door to door and on billboards in affected areas. People are being urged to use water only from protected sources and to get seen by a doctor as soon as symptoms of cholera present themselves.

Primary school children at a refugee camp in Dohuk were taken from regular classes to learn how to properly wash their hands and blow their noses. Officials are hoping that by reaching students, the information will get back to families as well. “Families can protect themselves in simple ways,” Hawkins said.

For communities already infected, or at risk of infection, health officials and UNICEF have undertaken an aggressive treatment campaign. Bottled water has been distributed to 37,000 people, community wells capable of serving 15,000 people have been built, 820,000 packets of rehydration salts are being given out and 3.1 million water treatment tablets will reach households across the country. Some schools have even delayed the beginning of classes for at least a month.

As with most humanitarian missions, the fight against Cholera outbreaks in Iraq is being hampered by a limited budget. If UNICEF is to continue supporting the Iraqi government, a $12.7 million funding gap will need to be filled. For the most vulnerable patients, this funding will mean life or death.

Ron Minard

Sources: WHO, Reuters, UN, UNICEF

Photo: Islamic Relief, Pixabay

A cholera outbreak in Tanzania that claimed the lives of 30 Burundian refugees and local Tanzanians has been curbed.

The epidemic occurred in western Tanzania near Lake Tanganyika, in a remote village that is overcrowded with refugees. Authorities estimate refugees consumed contaminated lake water, which facilitated the spread of cholera. A total of 4,408 cases have been reported.

A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said that no new deaths have been reported since last Thursday, and the number of new daily cases has fallen from around 915 per day at the height of the outbreak on May 18 to less than one hundred per day. According to Edwards, the situation is improving but it still could take several weeks to see cholera completely eradicated among this population.

The majority of the cholera victims are refugees of Burundi who are fleeing to avoid violence stemming from a failed political coup in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.

The influx of refugees from Burundi to surrounding countries has not stopped. The UNHCR estimates that over 100,000 Burundian refugees have escaped, leaving over 64,000 Burundians in Tanzania, and the remaining in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. About 100 Burundians per day arrive to each of these surrounding countries.

The refugees that arrive in Tanzania must walk four hours through the mountains to reach the border. Some immediately are bussed to the camp called Nyarugusu, and some wait for boats that will take them to a camp called Kigoma. Tens of thousands wait by Lake Tanganyika, a tiny beach area that is only 800 meters by 500 meters. The overcrowding and high density of refugees on the move has facilitated the quick spread of cholera.

Many refugees are being moved from Lake Tanganyika because it is overcrowded and unsanitary. Kahindo Maina, a public health officer of the UNHCR, said, ”Our priority is to get all the refugees out of Kagunga because the situation is dire. We have built latrines and brought supplies to provide clean water but the terrain and the crowded situation does not allow for a good sanitary situation there.”

Refugees have been moved to the Tanganyika stadium in Kigoma where there are better facilities, and cleaner water and sanitation. Tanzanian health authorities, the UNHCR, the World Health Organization and other partners have helped stem the spread of cholera by the promotion of hygiene, treatment of patients, implementation of effective prevention measures and the creation of access to sanitation and safe water.

Other preventative measures provided by the Ministry of Health, the UN and NGO partners include airlifting medicine and providing medical supplies and protective gear. UNHCR spokesman Edwards explained that “together with the government and our UN and NGO partners, we are providing oral rehydration solutions, soap and water purification tablets, and increasing hand-washing facilities.”

Around 30,000 refugees have also been moved from the lake area to Nyarugusu. Here, they receive vaccinations for childhood illnesses, get dewormed and have nutritional assessments done. New latrine and sanitation facilities are being built.

– Margaret Anderson
Sources: AllAfrica, Humanosphere, UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2
Photo: UNHCR