Babies Don’t Stop for Hurricanes


On Haiti’s northern coast there has been a spike in premature births—a trend you wouldn’t immediately attribute to the storms that struck six months earlier. Those disasters are long forgotten by everyone except those still struggling with their lasting effects.


Haiti’s northern departments are the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, where about 75 percent of people live on less than $2 a day. The northern departments are dependent on commodities from the capital, Port-au-Prince, and are linked by one low-lying road on the coast that passes through Gonaives. It repeatedly bears the brunt of hurricane damage.


In St. Louis du Nord, we visited North West Haiti Christian Mission’s Birthing Center, which averages about 85 births a month. The clinic receives nutritional products from Abbott, which are critical for these mothers and babies.


At the clinic we met Rose Cardene. Rose had recently given birth to a beautiful baby boy, Standley, days before we arrived. Stanley was premature, born weighing less than 3 pounds.


Premature birth is increasingly common in northern Haiti, where a food crisis lead to violent protests last spring and hurricane damage to crops caused the price of food to skyrocket. This left adequate nutrition out of reach for many pregnant women, placing additional stress on their already stressed bodies. Donated nutritional products become a lifeline for these women and their babies to be.


Adding insult to injury, aid delivery was severely hampered following last year’s four consecutive storms in as many weeks that killed more than 800 people, causing massive flooding and damage in their wake. With roads and bridges completely washed out, people in the north were forced to fend for themselves.


Now, in late March, a full month before the start of the rainy season, daily rains are making people in the north very nervous; memories of last year’s storms are all too vivid. It’s hard to image life in rural Haiti getting harder than it already is, but all you need to do is add water.


We are here planning our Hurricane Module distribution for the 2009 season, which will include Haiti. Clearly the need here is great.


Last year, hurricane modules were prepositioned in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in the U.S., and in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. The modules contain essential antibiotics; nutritional products for children and adults; oral rehydration solutions; and supplies for wound-care and water purification, all selected to help local healthcare providers meet the surge of additional patients while also caring for existing patients.


Having these modules in place before hurricane season starts will help protect vulnerable populations like pregnant women and their babies should a hurricane strike. Nutritional products give premature babies a chance at survival, despite challenging circumstances. 


Direct Relief provided more than $2.3 million (wholesale) in aid to Haiti following last year’s hurricanes. The organization is committed to providing essential medicines and nutritional supplies as long as needed following an emergency—because pregnancy doesn’t stop for hurricanes.

Brett Williams, Director, International Programs & Emergency Response

Brett Williams, Director of International Programs, joined Direct Relief in 2004. He has been the primary coordinator of Direct Relief’s Haiti response – the largest humanitarian effort since the organization was founded in 1948. He has spent much of the past year in Haiti, managing on the ground efforts and collaborating with more than 100 Haitian health facilities, as well as the Haitian Ministry of Health. Williams served as Direct Relief’s Emergency Response Coordinator before his appointment as Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response. During his career with Direct Relief, Williams has overseen the organization’s responses to the decade’s most devastating emergencies, including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2010 Haiti earthquake., and 2011 Japan earthquake. He has established relationships with local, state, and international emergency management agencies, playing a hands-on role in emergency response operations around the world. An avid photographer and champion for women’s access to healthcare, Williams holds a B.A. in history from UCLA.

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