Keeping Hope Alive: Mobile Clinics in Haiti Provide Lifeline Amidst Adversity

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Keeping Hope Alive: Mobile Clinics in Haiti Provide Lifeline Amidst Adversity

By: Kisanet Tezare Guebru, Manager of Programs and Development 

Posted April 16, 2024

In the heart of Haiti, amidst the turmoil of violence and displacement, mobile malnutrition clinics run by Zamni Lasante (ZL) are a beacon of hope, serving as a lifeline for thousands of malnourished children.  

Leading this important work is Dr. Alain Gelin, the project manager whose dedication knows no bounds. With each passing day, Dr. Alain witnesses the harsh reality of the situation unfolding around him. As violence escalates, particularly in Port-au-Prince, his concerns deepen. He fears the rapid displacement of families will lead to an influx of children at ZL mobile clinics suffering from severe acute malnutrition. His worries — and those of the entire malnutrition team — extend beyond the children. The ripple effect of malnutrition impact not only the young patients aged 6 to 59 months, but also the parents and siblings who accompany them. When malnutrition strikes outside this age range or affects adult family members, desperation often drives families to share the limited resources available, diluting the nutritional impact intended for the most vulnerable. 

"Thanks to the support of PIH Canada, Zanmi Lasante (ZL) continues to rely on mobile clinics to provide an effective response to the target population suffering from acute malnutrition in remote areas of the communes of Hinche and Saint Marc (very soon Boucan-Carré). I can only express my gratitude to all the stakeholders who continue to make the implementation of these activities possible. Your efforts to help us meet the needs of the most disadvantaged are priceless. If I were to take up one of the organization's key objectives, I would say that our interventions are effective antidotes to the despair of the project's acutely malnourished target population. Despite the immense challenges we have to overcome, the entire team remains highly mobilized in the fight against this scourge that continues to strike our little ones. I remain just as concerned for the other age groups of the population hit by hunger and malnutrition, who are still waiting for a helping hand. I hope that solutions can be found for them as soon as possible."

Photo of Dr. Alain Gelin by Fred Ferdinand.

The malnutrition project, supported by PIH Canada since 2017, delivers a package of evidence-based services for the treatment of acute malnutrition in the communes of Hinche and St. Marc. The initiative aims to prevent malnutrition-related deaths by strengthening the treatment path through a process where clinical staff proactively screen and treat children with malnutrition right in the communities where they live. This includes provisions of a specially formulated therapeutic food; and treatment for children with severe acute malnutrition with medical complications.   

According to the Integrated Food Analysis Classification (IPC), an alarming 19 percent increase is foreseen in the number of children estimated to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the country this year. The IPC forecasts that for the period from March to June 2024, 17% of the population analyzed (1.6 million Haitians) will be classified in IPC phase 4 (Emergency) and another 3.32 million people (33%) in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis). Level 4 in this context means people are facing extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition and disease levels which are excessively high, and the risk of hunger-related death is rapidly increasing. The latest report indicates a significant decline in food security in Haiti, with an additional 532,000 individuals now facing acute food insecurity compared to earlier projections for this period. As a result, 50% of the population surveyed is highly food insecure, requiring immediate intervention to fill consumption gaps and safeguard livelihoods. 

Workers sort peanuts at the Nourimanba Production Facility, located in Haiti’s Central Plateau. The facility produces Nourimanba, a fortified peanut-based food supplement designed to address one of the country’s most pressing issues: malnutrition. Photo by Mélissa Jeanty for PIH.

In the face of these challenges, Dr. Alain and his team remain unwavering in their determination to ensure nutrition care continues, even deep into rural and remote communities. Their daily routine is often punctuated by urgent calls alerting them to yet another road closure or area to be avoided due to gang violence. Just last month, gangs obstructed all major routes to St. Marc, presenting a dire situation for severely malnourished children in need of Nourimanba. However, thanks to the ingenuity of ZL’s operations and logistics department and the project team, Nourimanba still reached the mobile clinics, with Dr. Alain ensuring a sufficient reserve stock was deployed to mitigate future risks.

Dr. Alain and his team must also contend with the constant threat of fuel shortages, potential stockouts, delays from vendors, and the emotional toll that violence and displacement takes on staff and patients. 

Yet, they persevere, focusing on the immediate needs of their patients. Dr. Alain emphasizes the importance of unity among the staff, fostering a supportive environment where they look out for one another and find solace in shared meals and creative activities to uplift their spirits.

Joléne and her three-year-old Raphaël receiving treatment in Cange and Mirebalais, including Nourimanba. Joléne and Raphaël are pictured here working with nurse Clairedilia Fénélon. Photo by Mélissa Jeanty for PIH.

In the face of adversity, Dr. Alain and his team embody resilience and compassion, demonstrating a fierce commitment to the well-being of Haiti’s children. Their dedication serves as an inspiration to us all, reminding us of the power of human kindness and solidarity in overcoming even the most daunting of challenges, and the continued support they require.

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