Washington Post, February 3, 2010
CHILDREN SUFFERING HEALTH PROBLEMS IN PORT-AU-PRINCE CAMPS
By Peter Slevin
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Children are increasingly suffering health problems in Port-au-Prince's crowded encampments, say international medical workers, who predict the situation will worsen as Haiti continues to reel from the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Food remains scarce, water is often impure and thousands upon thousands of families are living side by side in makeshift shelters that rarely consist of more than a synthetic tarpaulin and walls of thin cloth.
Worried about the potential for disease, medical teams launched a major campaign Tuesday to vaccinate children in the capital.
In a project expected to last about two weeks, the goal is to protect as many as several hundred thousand children against measles, tetanus and diphtheria, UNICEF spokeswoman Roshan Khadivi said.
"Every day it is worse," said Pino Gonzalez, a Médecins du Monde nurse working with children at a sweltering encampment on Toussaint L'Ouverture Boulevard, about a mile from the Port-au-Prince airport."If you go more and more days without food, water or shelter, it can only get worse."
U.S. officials said Tuesday that three weeks after the earthquake destroyed Haiti's capital, international food aid had reached at least1 million people -- but another million were estimated to need such assistance. At least 70,000 families who lost their homes had receivedplastic sheeting, tents or shelter materials, but at least 170,000 more required help, they said.
"We are in an emergency relief situation, and we will continue to be in an emergency relief situation for many weeks to come," Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, toldreporters in Washington.
He said, however, that water distribution had been a "success story."People who had no access to international food aid appeared to begetting by through scavenging, buying goods in markets and other means.
International food trucks have not stopped in the Toussaint L'Ouverture Boulevard camp, where a citizens' committee estimates that 12,000 suddenly homeless people have taken refuge. Nor has there been other help.
"We have asked," Médecins du Monde physician Philippe Rodier said, "but the problem is so enormous for the resources available."
By midweek, officials estimated, daily food deliveries will be underway in 16 places in Port-au-Prince, including gang-wracked Cité Soleil. The effort is scheduled to reach 2 million people in 15 days. Army Col. Gregory Kane called it the U.N. World Food Program's "surge."
"Things are getting better, but the needs are immense," said DavidMeltzer, the American Red Cross's senior vice president for international services. "It will be years. Three weeks into it, it's still very early to see what the recovery will look like."
The Haitian government estimates that 200,000 children younger than 7 are in temporary camps.
An American doctor working in a triage tent in the courtyard of the State University Hospital of Haiti said Tuesday that child illnesses"connected to crowding" there are growing. He cited meningitis and intestinal disorders exacerbated by the heat and a shortage of food and clean water.
"They're outside. There's inadequate shelter," said Rashid Kysia, a Chicago emergency room doctor. "When you crowd like this, you get diarrhea and dehydration. They can't catch up.
"For the children in the teeming settlements, there are no organized activities and precious few toys. There are no schools. A half-dozen boys at the camp on Toussaint L'Ouverture Boulevard flew kites they had fashioned from pieces of plastic shopping bags.
The camp, which sprawls over a dusty hill across from a closed cardealership, continues to grow, said Boussico Pierre-Louis, an engineer and leader of a citizens' committee that keeps order.
"In every tent, there's a group of about 10 people, and of those 10, about four are kids. There are a lot of kids who are sleeping at night without tents," he said as he maneuvered along narrow paths. "They lost everything."
Food deliveries, still sporadic, have missed this encampment, although relief trucks and international soldiers rumble along the main street next to the camp from dawn until dusk.
"Sometimes I spend several days without eating," said Myrlande Casimir,who is breast-feeding her 3-month-old son, Daniel. She shares a dirt floor in a cloth enclosure with 11 others.
Several tents away, two of Kivier Bazelais's five children have rashes and sores on their dust-covered skin.
His house crumbled in the earthquake. Anything less severe, he said,and "I would take the risk and stay under it. It would be much better than staying here."
A further concern for children is psychological damage. Many have lost relatives and friends. Older children have seen their schools and homes destroyed.
"They have lost security, love and protection," said Marlene Goodfriend, a pediatric psychiatrist at the University of Florida at Jacksonville who has worked in Haiti. "The psychological effects can be profound, and many of these children will manifest symptoms of stress and possibly post-traumatic stress syndrome."
Jacklin Blaise's concerns are more immediate. Holding his 1-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, named after the late pop singer, he said she coughs through the night and sleeps little: "She got sick when we came here.The wind, the dust. The kids are under the sun."
"If by any chance it rains," Blaise said, "we will all be victims again."
Staff writers Mary Beth Sheridan and Annie Gowen in Washington contributed to this report.