Sadness and Optimism Mark International Women's Day Celebration in Haiti

Sadness and Optimism Mark International Women's Day Celebration in Haiti
UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid speaking to a mother and her child waiting to be attended at a clinic that provides integrated primary healthcare that include reproductive health and testing, treatment and counselling for HIV and AIDS. This is a model for an integrated package of services at the community level. Photo: Dimitry Leger/UNFPA.
  • 09 March 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE — “There was sadness, but also songs of joy and a strong commitment to rebuild Haiti,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, after attending an International Women’s Day celebration on the grounds of the Haitian Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Port-au-Prince, the country’s earthquake-ravaged capital.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was completely destroyed in the January 12 earthquake, along with the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Health and scores of other public buildings. Many women activists died, trapped inside the Ministry. A memorial was held today to honour them.

“We must work closely with the ministries to participate in the rebuilding of the health system,” said Ms. Obaid. She also highlighted working with young people as one of the main priorities for UNFPA in Haiti’s recovery process.

The organization is providing tents to be used as temporary office space for the Ministries of Health and Women’s Affairs. Some of these tents will also be used to provide ‘safe spaces’ for women who have been exposed to rape or other forms of gender-based violence in camps for the displaced population.

UNFPA is supporting several youth activities carried out by the Ministry of Youth. Last week, the Ministry initiated a new programme offering sports and arts activities, combined with psychological counselling for 11- to 16-year olds who live in camps. In the absence of schooling and other services, 1,000 young people are brought by bus every day to Camp de l’Avenir, an activity centre where they can play basketball, draw, paint and receive counselling. The project, funded in part by UNFPA, aims to reach 30,000 young people per month and is expected to continue until schools are able to start again.

Ms. Obaid also visited Gheskio, a research, prevention and treatment centre for HIV and AIDS, which also offers counselling and treatment for victims of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. In the aftermath of the emergency Gheskio broadened its activities to include treatment for victims of the earthquake.

During her visit, Ms. Obaid also met with Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Minister of Health, Alex Larsen.

She emphasized the need to reduce the level of maternal mortality. Haiti already had the highest rate of maternal death in the Western Hemisphere before the earthquake, with 630 deaths per 100,000 live births, equaling the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth 1 in 47.

Since the earthquake, UNFPA has delivered reproductive health supplies, including clean delivery kits and other maternal and neonatal health care products, to cover the needs of more than 1.5 million women.

UNFPA is also helping to safeguard the personal hygiene and health of women and girls by providing dignity kits which include items such as sanitary napkins, anti-bacterial soap, underwear, towels and washing supplies. More than 25,000 dignity kits have been distributed and another 150,000 are on the way.

In the medium and long term, the country will also need assistance in re-building its education system. The country’s nursing and midwifery schools became inoperable after the earthquake, along with almost all schools and universities in the affected areas.

UNFPA is now hiring ten international midwives to help ensure safe deliveries and train local health personnel.

Ms. Obaid was accompanied on her Haiti visit by Marcela Suazo, UNFPA’s Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Mabingue Ngom, the Director of the organization’s Programme Division.

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