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Health of Many Haitian Children Still at Risk 17 Days After Earthquake


PORT-AU-PRINCE, 29 January 2010 – Dr. Gerlant Van Berlaer is a pediatrician with B-Fast, a Belgian organization specializing in rapid medical deployment and response to large-scale emergencies and disasters. Dr. Van Berlaer’s team arrived in Port-au-Prince one day after the January 12 earthquake struck, setting up a field hospital complete with surgical suite on the grounds of the Laboratoire National de Sante Publique.


© UNICEF Canada/2010/Tidey
UNICEF Canada's Lydie Collette meets with Dr. Van Berlaer and mother Jenan Louise Vanin.

Today, we visited Dr. Van Berlaer at the B-Fast site where he estimates that more than 80 per cent of the patients treated there since the disaster are children.

During the first few days after the earthquake, the majority of children and adults who came in for medical care were being treated for fractures and lacerations. Seventeen days on, however, the healthcare needs of children in particular are changing.

Dr. Van Berlaer explains that with hundreds of thousands of Haitian people living at very close quarters in spontaneous settlements, children are at risk of contracting a number of life-threatening illnesses. “Certain diseases and medical conditions thrive in situations like this where people in the camps are staying so close together and in some cases, without access to clean water and proper sanitation,” says Van Berlaer.

© UNICEF Canada/2010/Tidey
Dr Van Berlaer examines infant.

B-Fast doctors have already observed a number of chicken pox cases in some of the settlements around Port-au-Prince. Dr. Van Berlaer says that extensive immunization campaigns for children are needed to prevent them from falling ill or even dying due to preventable diseases.

In the aftermath of emergencies, childhood diseases such as measles and diphtheria can run rampant. UNICEF is planning a major immunization campaign for 600,000 Haitian children under five. Children will be immunized against measles, diphtheria and tetanus, with special attention being paid to children two years of age and under.

According to Dr. Van Berlaer, malnutrition is also a very real threat to children caught up in a disaster like this. Children left homeless and in temporary shelters after the earthquake are now largely dependent on international aid to meet their nutritional needs. With nearly 40 percent of Haitians aged 14 and below, the need is great. 


© UNICEF Canada/2010/Tidey
A mother feeds her infant daughter with oral rehydration salts to combat dehydration.

At the B-Fast field hospital, we visited Jenan Louise Vanin and her three-month-old daughter Morgane who was suffering from dehydration and acute malnutrition. We watched as Dr. Van Berlaer treated Morgane with a solution of oral rehydration salts provided by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s ability to quickly provide partners on the ground with large quantities of medical supplies for children is so important during a disaster like this,” says Van Berlaer. “That is one reason I have been a UNICEF supporter and donor for more than 30 years.”

When much of the world’s attention and global media spotlight inevitably moves away from the earthquake in Haiti, the medical needs of this country’s vulnerable children will not disappear. That is why UNICEF and its parnters are committed to the wellbeing of Haiti’s children over the long-term. The country’s future depends on it.  

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230,
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806,