The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children account for roughly 40 percent of the confirmed cholera cases in Haiti, as it appealed for US$27.5 million to save more lives from the disease.
The outbreak began two months ago and is unfolding amid an economic crisis and rising insecurity due to gang violence. Ninety percent of confirmed cases have been in areas with a high burden of severe acute malnutrition.
UNICEF said children suffering from the condition, which is also known as severe wasting, are more vulnerable to cholera and at least three times more at risk of dying from it.
“In Haiti right now, there is a triple threat to children’s lives –malnutrition, cholera and armed violence. And sometimes all three together,” said Manuel Fontaine, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programs, who has ended a four-day visit to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
Fontaine said he was able to view firsthand, how malnourished children are receiving life-saving care at UNICEF-supported cholera treatments in the capital, and in Cité Soleil neighborhood.
“I was shocked to see many children at risk of dying in the cholera treatment centers. In just a few hours, acute watery diarrhea and vomiting dehydrate and weaken them so much they may die without timely and adequate treatment. Cholera and malnutrition are a lethal combination, one leading to the other,” he said.
The senior official also visited a center which provides medical, psychological, and psychosocial care to survivors of gender-based violence.
As of Monday, there were 924 confirmed cholera cases in Haiti, more than 10,600 suspected cases, and 188 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health.
But Fontaine remained adamant that the “vicious cycle” between malnutrition and cholera can be broken.
“Simple, affordable and effective treatment can save Haitian children’s lives, as long as we reach the most vulnerable families before it’s too late,” he said.
“But the urban-poor areas most affected by the cholera outbreak are also under the control of heavily armed gangs. Amid widespread armed violence and insecurity in large parts of the capital, humanitarian teams are walking on eggshells.”
UNICEF said it is seeking funding to ramp up its cholera response over the next five months. It said the US$27.5 million will be used to provide humanitarian assistance in the areas of health, water, hygiene, and sanitation, as well as nutrition and protection, for 1.4 million people
Since July, the UN agency and partners have screened and assessed the nutritional status of nearly 6,200 children in Cité Soleil, the largest urban-poor area in the capital.