SBH Fights Malnutrition

Did you know that three million Haitians—almost 30% of Haiti’s population—live in food insecurity? It is a significant factor in the recent increase in Haiti’s malnutrition prevalence, which jumped from 5.1% to 6.5% in 2013 alone. Malnutrition, which is often separated into severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), puts children under five years of age at risk of excessive morbidity and premature death. These young children face nutritional barriers to cognitive and physical development. Many are stunted or wasted and face the lifelong consequences of impediments to early childhood development.

The world has the capacity to feed almost double its current population of seven billion; however, almost one billion people suffer from malnutrition worldwide. Malnutrition increases the risk of infectious disease, can lead to serious health problems, and, according to the WHO, is present in half of all cases of child mortality. Therefore, nutrition programs act as a type of disease prevention and can help to reduce the large economic burden of infectious disease. Regrettably, only a small percentage of aid goes to basic nutrition despite the potential health and economic benefits of these initiatives.

The Haitian Ministry of Health, known as the MSPP, operates a National Protocol for the Management of Acute Malnutrition in the HEI/SBH catchment area. MSPP is the primary force in Haiti promoting nutrition. They run a government-supported nation-wide malnutrition program. HEI/SBH is working with the MSPP to cover communities in and around Fond des Blancs by providing nutrition services and education. Our community health workers extend the reach of MSPP treatment protocols with their ability to access remote locations only accessible by motorcycle or on foot.

This month, HEI/SBH is beginning an exciting program to alleviate child malnutrition. Funded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), the SBH community health department is implementing a malnutrition treatment and prevention plan that will reach mothers and children in a number of communities near Fond des Blancs. We are drawing on its many years of experience coordinating nutrition programs that have improved the health of countless children in the Fond des Blancs area.

Mother leading group of young children in a song
Mother stirring food in a large pot

The main thrust of this program is to disseminate nutrition and malnutrition knowledge through 10-day educational sessions at Mothers’ Clubs. As mothers are typically in charge of feeding the family, over 70 of our community health workers explain the risks of malnutrition and equip mothers to treat and prevent it at meetings with local mothers. The sessions will include lessons on how to shop for and cook nutritional food with limited resources, and the mothers and children will cook and eat a meal at each Mothers’ Club.

Good nutrition is absolutely essential—its importance cannot be understated. Without it, children often develop more slowly and struggle to focus in school. They face serious challenges that could be prevented by something as straightforward as adequate, healthy food. Through this OCHA-funded nutrition program, we intend to improve the lives of children and their communities. We as an organization hope that the children who attend Mothers’ Club will grow up unimpeded by poor nutrition, a legacy they can pass down to future generations.