Malnutrition and other gastro-intestinal parasites ingested through contaminated water supplies are the most common causes of death among children in Haiti. Thus, the majority of patients we treat at Hospital St. Damien are admitted for these reasons. Just last month, in September, out of about 400 patients in total, we admitted 73 patients strictly for malnutrition. Forty-seven of these children were considered to be suffering the most severe levels of malnutrition by the World Health Organization standards.
All the children in our hospital come from homes in very poor condition and with the rising food costs in the country and the recent hurricanes food supplies are getting even lower. Thus, most of our patients are undernourished even if they have been admitted for other reasons.
Due to a limited budget, the daily menu is basic, but adequate. Along with daily doses of multivitamins and iron supplements, the children eat labwi, a flour-based sweet, milky porridge for both breakfast and dinner. For lunch, Monday through Saturday, rice or cornmeal and beans is served. On Sunday, tradition Haitian rice is prepared along with a chicken and vegetable sauce. Also, once a week the children are treated to fresh fruit, either bananas or watermelon.
To supplement the food and as our primary treatment for malnutrition, all children in the hospital drink one of four kinds of milk six times a day. The babies receive soy-based infant formula and the older children drink sweet milk enriched with vitamins. The patients who are being treated for malnutrition drink either F-75 or F-100 therapeutic milks which are graciously donated to the hospital by UNICEF. Both milks are used to treat severe malnutrition around the world and are highly concentrated in calories as they are fortified with oil, vitamins, and sugar. F-75 is a lower concentration of the F-100 and is used for the first treatment step for children suffering from the most severe malnutrition.
We have had much success with this program and treating malnutrition in the children who come to our hospital. Unfortunately, aside from food distribution programs run from the hospital, there is little we can do for the children once they return home and with the current food situation only getting worse, we are seeing more and more cases every month. At St. Damien we will continue to treat all the children we can and to do our part to help this country begin the slow climb out of poverty.