“Bébé Vanyan” Tackles Malnourishment in Haitian Children

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Michelle Marrion reports on an initiative that is helping severely malnourished Haitian children thrive. UNICEF is providing a nutritional supplement called Bebe Vanyan [Mighty Baby], a powder that can increase children’s chances of survival, especially during the first two years of life.

[. . .] In Haiti, 22 per cent of children aged 6 to 59 months experience chronic malnutrition. The rate of underweight is significantly higher in Haiti’s poorest areas – such as Palmis, the rural village outside of the southern city of Jeremie where Ms. Firdemont and Sendy live. In rural, isolated areas, families have often not been taught about nutrition, and base their eating on cultural practice. “I’ve seen people sell or trade their eggs for cheese doodles because they think imported foods must be healthier,” says Casimir Alfred, Programme Coordinator from UNICEF’s partner on the ground Haitian Health Foundation.

In addition, the majority of families struggle not only to afford to buy foods that can supplement their diets, but also to access them. They might walk hours to local farmer’s markets, only to find a monotonous selection of foods. “There are no tomatoes, cabbage, spinach…[T]heir bodies don’t get the necessary nutrients like vitamin A, iron and iodine, which had led to a high rate of malnutrition in these communities, compared to the country on the whole,” says Mr. Alfred.

One of the ways UNICEF is tackling this health challenge is through nutritional interventions, such as community meetings that provide information on what foods families can plant in their gardens and eat to help balance their diets. An important part of this initiative, carried out in partnership with Haitian Health Foundation, is the distribution of a multiple micronutrient powder known locally as Bebe Vanyan (Mighty Baby). Using this powder can increase children’s chances of survival, especially during the first two years of life. Chief of Child Survival and Development for UNICEF in Haiti Mohamed Ayoya explains, “One packet of the vitamin powder provides a daily allowance of the necessary vitamins and nutrients young children need during the critical months of their development.” The cost of a one-month supply of the supplement is under US$1.

UNICEF, Haitian Health Foundation and the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population are working together so that the initiative can become a national programme to ensure that all Haitian children under 5 get the nutritional elements they need. The initiative has been widely successful, but Belo Fado, one of the 51 health agents working in this area, says that challenges do exist. “It’s difficult to cover everyone,” he says. “We try to prioritize and give it to children with worst cases of malnutrition first.”

For full post and informative video, see http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/haiti_68881.html

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