Childhood Malnutrition in post-earthquake Haiti

Sep 5, 2013

Childhood Malnutrition in Haiti - Sep. 2013 Update

A malnourished child is weighed.
A malnourished child is weighed.

Thank you so much for supporting Partners In Health’s Childhood Malnutrition Project in Haiti on globalgiving. I am excited to share with you a letter from our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, which provides an update on this important work: 

I want to tell you a story about a little girl in Haiti.

While visiting patients in a rural village, a Partners In Health (PIH) community health worker spotted 14-month-old Lovena. Little Lovena had diarrhea, she was weak, and she had no appetite. With the encouragement of the health worker, her parents brought her to a PIH hospital. Her diagnosis was malnutrition. 

This story is all too common. Malnutrition is a terrible disease that afflicts children in Haiti and around the world. It is a disease that stems from extreme poverty… but it is treatable and preventable.  And thanks to your generous support, we are able to treat patients like Lovena every day.  

Lovena’s parents, who were very poor and lived about a two-hour walk from the hospital, didn’t understand the source of her sickness. It was severe acute malnutrition, caused by a shortage of the nutritious food toddlers require to grow up healthy.

To help her recover quickly, we immediately provided Lovena with a ready-to-use locally produced therapeutic peanut butter packed with micronutrients, which we call Nourimanba.

The child had many follow-up visits to the hospital so we could ensure she was healthy and growing. Recently, a doctor saw her for a simple cold and reported that she is now a healthy, active toddler. Without the treatment for malnutrition that Partners In Health provided, a simple cold could have easily killed her.

Malnutrition is a sickness of poverty, and the children who are most affected often live in the most rural areas—far from health services and sources of steady employment. When I visit clinics in rural Haiti, up to half of the children I see are malnourished, placing them at much greater risk for other illnesses and even death. The effects, even if the child survives, can be long-term. Prolonged malnourishment can lead to cognitive and physical delays in development that make children less productive for the rest of their lives. These setbacks make them less able to care for their own children, passing on the joint injustices of malnutrition and poverty.

With your help, Partners In Health has been fighting this disease in Haiti and in other countries we work to support. We’ve made great progress, but we have an ambitious goal—to eliminate all deaths of children under 5 years old from malnutrition in the areas we serve.

We use a simple innovation, a therapeutic peanut butter packed with micronutrients that we produce locally, to treat malnutrition effectively in clinics and in children’s homes.

We don’t stop at clinical care. In Haiti, we work with farmers to provide them with seeds and training to grow the peanuts for the Nourimanba peanut butter. Then, Partners In Health employs people to make the paste—a mixture of five ingredients: peanuts, milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, and vitamins. The product doesn’t require refrigeration and resists spoiling— making it the perfect treatment for children to take home with them to continue their recovery.

Your support has helped us to accomplish a new standard of high-quality care for the poor, the elimination of this tragic cause of needless death, and a true chance at a productive life for thousands of children.

Dr. Jean Louis Romain, a Haitian pediatrician, has seen countless cases of malnutrition since he began working with us in 2005. He said that children’s parents often don’t understand the signs of malnutrition. More importantly, mothers of children with malnutrition often feel ashamed that they don’t have the means to feed their children, and they avoid seeking care for fear of judgment from the providers or fellow patients.

“It’s a sickness that comes from want,” Dr. Romain said. “They feel ashamed.”

After treatment for the children and support for the parents, however, Dr. Romain said that the parents’ attitudes change, and their experiences benefit their communities.  Families spread the word about preventing malnutrition and receiving care. The children’s parents also receive comprehensive health care and social support through Partners In Health. This helps ensure they can be as productive as possible in providing for their children so that the cycle of poverty and malnutrition does not repeat itself.

“They see that there’s a possibility for their children to live happily. They understand they don’t have to become gravely sick, and they know they can come to the hospital earlier for help,” Dr. Romain said.

With your continued support, we will be able to reach, support, and treat more of the most vulnerable children and their families.


With gratitude,

Joia Mukherjee

Chief Medical Officer, Partners In Health


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Project Leader

Laura Soucy

Annual Giving Coordinator
Boston, MA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Childhood Malnutrition in post-earthquake Haiti