Treating Malnutrition in Haiti Amid Widespread Instability

During a time of political and economic instability, food has become increasingly unaffordable.

Posted on Mar 13, 2024

A young boy in a blue collared shirt smirking at the camera while being held by his mother who is smiling down at him
Joléne and her youngest son, Raphaël, who received treatment for malnutrition through Zanmi Lasante. Photo by Mélissa Jeanty / PIH

In Haiti, the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition has drastically increased during this time of widespread violence and political and economic instability, as food prices have skyrocketed and resources have become even more limited. According to UNICEF, the number of children experiencing malnutrition increased by 30% in 2023 compared to the previous year, with nearly 115,600 children affected compared to 87,500 in 2022.

Did you know:
  • In Haiti, 1 in 4 children suffer from chronic malnutrition;
  • Malnutrition is the leading cause of death for children under 5;  
  • Around 11,000 children under the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition in two of the primary areas Zanmi Lasante delivers care: the Central Plateau and Artibonite regions;
  • Even acute malnutrition can prohibit children from properly developing physically and cognitively.

At Zanmi Lasante, as Partners In Health is known in Haiti, the nutrition team provides screening, treatment, and education to respond to this crisis. The program serves patients, typically infants, children from 6 months to 5 years old, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, through clinic visits and through mobile clinics conducted in the surrounding communities.  

The mobile clinics are critical to the program because they allow our teams to reach remote communities and identify malnourished children earlier, so treatment can be delivered before health problems turn fatal. However, amid the current national instability, it has become exceedingly challenging for our teams to travel with mobile clinics, as they face fuel shortages, violence, and unpredictable roadblocks that restrict the team’s movement.

Despite this, our nutrition team has persisted, finding ways to reach our patients at home–whether by rescheduling clinic visits or finding alternative routes. Their dedication has provided lifesaving care for families all over Haiti.  

Joléne and Raphaël at their home in Lédier, an hour’s walk from the malnutrition clinic in Mirebalais. Photo by Mélissa Jeanty / PIH

Jolène, a mother of five, felt powerless when her youngest son, three-year-old Raphaël, fell extremely ill last August. He couldn’t stop vomiting, his belly was swelling, he was covered in rashes, and he was deteriorating as he rapidly lost weight. When Jolène brought him to the Zanmi Lasante team for help, he was immediately hospitalized: Raphaël was suffering from severe malnutrition.

“I was very affected by his illness. I had no hope at all. I thought I had lost him,” recalls Jolène.

Raphaël’s condition was severe and required him to remain hospitalized for three months until he regained his strength. Today, he continues outpatient treatment with the Zanmi Lasante team monitoring his progress and supporting his nutrition, and his mom is committed to never missing an appointment.  

Zanmi Lasante’s nutrition program provides children with a lifesaving treatment called Nourimanba, a high-calorie, high-protein paste made from locally grown peanuts and mixed with essential vitamins and minerals. This ready-to-use therapeutic food, produced by Zanmi Lasante in partnership with local farmers, helps children gain weight and grow quickly over several weeks of care. Raphaël is just one of the thousands of children who have been saved by this food. Last year alone, 6,190 children were admitted and treated for malnutrition through Zanmi Lasante’s network of hospitals and clinics.

Haiti’s population continues to be vulnerable to malnutrition, facing food insecurity, poor infrastructure–particularly in terms of water and sanitation–and, currently, political and economic instability. Around 4.35 million Haitians are grappling with severe food insecurity. However, the Zanmi Lasante team remains steadfast, determined to record zero deaths of children under 5 years old due to malnutrition.  

Raphaël is one child among many to have his life saved by the incredible people at Zanmi Lasante with the support of our generous, global Partners In Health community. During this critical time in Haiti, Zanmi Lasante is sustaining their operations and providing care to those who need it most, bravely showing up for our patients every day.  

Photo by Mélissa Jeanty / PIH

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