Inside the child malnutrition unit at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, the largest regional hospital in Haiti’s Artibonite region, colorful murals have been painted over the beds. They were specifically designed to teach parents, especially mothers, how to keep their newborns and children healthy and well-fed.
In Haiti one in five children suffers from chronic malnutrition and 6.5 percent of Haitian children suffer from acute malnutrition. Chronic malnutrition is described as stunting or shortness. Acute malnutrition is wasting or thinness.
This mural in Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti shows mothers the importance of breastfeeding their newborns as well as the importance of taking their babies to the Centre de Santé (health center).
Haiti has a 53 percent literacy rate making it imperative that health messaging at the hospital is conveyed through art as well as through color-coded words. For example, the hospital’s social services are all written in red so those who cannot read can easily find that department. Additionally, for those who can read all signs are written in French as well as in Creole as language politics in the region are quite heightened.
Mothers instead of fathers are more likely to tend to their children in the malnutrition unit like the mothers I saw when I visited. Some mothers were feeding their children and others were sitting with their children who were too weak to be awake.
Haitian women have a lower literacy rate than men in Haiti making messaging through art critical to driving home nutrition education in this unit.
This mural below shows the mother feeding her child mashed fruits and vegetables and her older children drinking treated, clean water.
Behavior change through health messaging isn’t easy. Many health workers, hospitals, and health centers employ various tactics to spread health education from community plays to songs which have been shown to be highly effective.
These art murals reinforce nutrition information health workers tell the mothers. Due to the nature of malnutrition, many of the children stay for more than a day in order to become well again making the murals especially effective.
This mural in the malnutrition unit shows parents the importance of keeping treated drinking and cooking water (dlo trete) away from animals in order to reduce waterborne diseases.
While health messaging through art is a useful way to teach malnutrition information, parents are also taught about how to properly feed their children during monthly mobile health posts. Children are weighed from a tree and others’ arms are measured to detect any malnutrition.
“If there has been a child who is in the malnutrition program and doesn’t show up, I will visit them at their home,” said Junior Exanthus, a Hôpital Albert Schweitzer health agent.
Children who are malnourished are given a week’s supply of Plumpy Nut, a peanut butter paste, in order to increase their weight. Unfortunately, oftentimes other children in the family will also eat the Plumpy Nut. When children are checked again for malnutrition and they haven’t picked up weight, this is usually the case.