Haiti begins intensive efforts to improve children's health
Suzanne Suh , UNICEF
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (May 31, 2012) — Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and Population has accelerated vaccination efforts throughout the country, part of a broader package of intensive activities promoting children’s health. These interventions are supported by UNICEF and its national and international partners, including the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The activities included a vaccination campaign, coupled with Vitamin A supplementation and de-worming, that began on April 21, targeting nearly 2.5 million children aged 9 and under.
Since 2008, efforts to vaccinate against deadly childhood diseases including polio and measles have reached only 60% of Haitian children. To address this, the intensive activities focused on the most remote areas, in an effort to reach children most in need of vaccination. The ultimate goal was to reach 95% coverage throughout the country.
A community effort
At St. Ann Health Center in Camp Perrin, in the South Department, a crowd arrived in spite of the previous day’s rain, which had made the roads difficult to use. A large-scale social mobilization effort—employing local media, banners, posters, leaflets, town criers and face-to-face awareness-raising—had encouraged parents in surrounding communities to bring their children.
Ten-month-old Sokaicha stirred in the arms of her mother, who brought her to be vaccinated for the first time. Sokaicha received a vaccine to protect against rubella, polio and measles. She also received de-worming pills and a dose of vitamin A.
Vitamin A boosts immune function and prevents blindness in children. Vitamin A deficiency is estimated to claim the lives of 670,000 children under five annually worldwide, and causes blindness in approximately 350,000 children in developing countries each year. De-worming tablets provide effective treatment against a variety of worms, helping prevent malnutrition and diarrhea—leading causes of child death.
Sokaicha's mother, Constant Christa, 38, said her other two children have already been vaccinated. "Once I heard they were holding the intensive activities, I hurried to the health center because I know that immunization protects children against disease," she said.
The nurse in charge of the Camp Perrin Health Center, Yolène Léonard, said people were determined to be vaccinated.
"The rain complicated things a lot," Léonard said. “But people are putting in a lot of effort despite all the rain. They bring umbrellas or cover their children with blankets.”
To reach remote areas, vaccination teams also visited schools to vaccinate children. Some teams walked for hours to reach sites high in the mountains or below in the valleys.
"Sometimes, it takes us more than a two hours’ walk to reach vaccination posts. But it is our duty to protect children against these diseases. Prevention is better than a cure," said Vaccination Agent Dieuseul Pierre from the Department of Grande Anse.
UNICEF has provided 100% of the vitamin A requirements for the intensive efforts. UNICEF also funded all of the materials for the social mobilization program and supported logistics for the vaccination campaign, including supervision, vaccines, syringes, refrigerators and immunization cards.
“UNICEF’s objective is to help mothers and families to understand that they have to protect their children. All children should be vaccinated,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans. “When we protect the children of Haiti, we protect the region. When we protect the region, we protect the world.”