Three families, one camp - photo gallery
By Nyka Alexander
WHO Communications Officer
10 March 2010
In the hills above Port-au-Prince, the chic and exclusive Petionville Club has become home to over 50 000 Haitians displaced by the January earthquake. The elegant swimming pool and luxurious terraces which once dominated these grounds are now replaced by a patchwork of temporary housing constructed from sheets, tarps, and tents.
Families and individuals in temporary housing constructed since the earthquake face acute health threats. In the over 300 temporary settlements that have sprung up since the quake, PAHO/WHO and other international agencies are working with the Government of Haiti and local communities to organize vaccination programmes, monitor for disease outbreaks and deliver clean water, among other health interventions, to reduce the impact of these living environments.
Petionville is one of the more crowded camps in the Port-au-Prince region. A number of NGOs have set up services, such as a clinic and water distribution. This camp is overcrowded and will become slick with mud in the rainy season. It has been identified as one of the priority sites for relocation because the living conditions are dangerous and unsanitary.
Franco Noel, 30, is an elementary school teacher. He lives in the Petionville Club camp with his wife Serline and 4 year old daughter Angeline. He says he dislikes the "precarious and chaotic" circumstances they live in. In the near term, he hopes to acquire a tent because the tarp covering their home will not keep out heavier rains. As the rainy season begins, Franco and his family will face increased risks of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue, that rise when the moist conditions favour the growth of mosquitoes.
Franco tries to keep his daughter healthy by ensuring she stays clean. For example, he always makes sure she wears sandals. She has also received her childhood vaccines while in the camp. By mid-March 2010, WHO, UNICEF, the Government and other partners have vaccinated over 300 000 people against various disease, including measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
The first phase of the campaign targeted children and adults in the temporary settlements. The second phase will expand the programme to include people living in the affected areas, but not in the camps, such as those who are still able to be in their houses.
When Franco's house was destroyed, he retrieved just a handful of items, including this mosquito net, which a vital tool to protect his family against malaria. WHO and other partners supported the Government to set up a disease surveillance system in camps hosting displaced people. Doctors monitor and report on certain diseases, including malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea to identify disease patterns and allow authorities to respond more quickly.
Claudia (in white shirt) and her family live next to Franco. She helps her mother by collecting water at the community pump. WHO tests all the private water points in Port-au-Prince to ensure the water is clean. The water is then distributed to camps via government and NGO trucks.
Claudia's mother is 46-year-old Jeanne Orelus. They live in their temporary home with Claudia's grandmother and two other siblings. Jeanne says her mother is sick and the children are often not well, either. Her son has earaches and she herself feels pain "everywhere".
Jeanne washes her face using the water her daughter carried back from the distribution point. Providing the camps with water for cleaning, not just drinking, is essential for health. Without the facilities to bathe, people living in the settlements are prone to scabies, fungal infections and other skin diseases. Asked what she would hope for in the near term, Jeanne replied simply that "life will change".
After disasters, there is often a misconception that women are too stressed to breastfeed. Micheline Saintile, 38, a mother of nine, has breastfed all her children until the age of two and continues now with her eight-month-old son. She now counsels her 18-year-old daughter (left) and other women to continue breastfeeding. Why is she such a fan of mother's milk? "Because it gives the baby energy", she says. Some camps have instituted Baby Tents where mothers can come with their babies to breastfeed, meet other mothers, and get counselling if necessary. This is a practice that PHAO/WHO supports.
The Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population in conjunction with PAHO/WHO, WFP, UNFPA and UNICEF, is working to prevent severe malnutrition in infants and children living in makeshift shelters across Port-au-Prince. A program will distribute three-week rations of high energy biscuits to pregnant and lactating mothers and children ages three to five years, as well as peanut-based paste to infants six to 35 months.
Micheline and her children have all been healthy, she says. One of the ways she tries to keep them healthy is to make sure they wash their hands before they eat.
Despite the upheaval in her life, Micheline is well informed and doing the best she can to keep her family healthy and well. Under these difficult circumstances, it is important that families have access to information on how to protect their health and the locations of health facilities. Studies in camps show that as many as 10% of the people still have no access to health care.
Other people have been able to take advantage of mobile health clinics which go into the settlements at fixed times every week to provide free health care. The Government and international community are discussing replicating this model for the long term to assure health care remains accessible to the population.