Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Protecting and improving breastfeeding practices during a major emergency: lessons learnt from the baby tents in Haiti

Mohamed Ag Ayoya, Kate Golden, Ismael Ngnie-Teta, Marjolein D Moreaux, Aissa Mamadoultaibou, Leslie Koo, Erin Boyd, Jean Max Beauliere, Celine Lesavre & Joseline Pierre Marhone

Problem

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti displaced about 1.5 million people, many of them into camps for internally displaced persons. It was expected that disruption of breastfeeding practices would lead to increased infant morbidity, malnutrition and mortality.

Approach

Haiti’s health ministry and the United Nations Children’s Fund, in collaboration with local and international nongovernmental organizations, established baby tents in the areas affected by the earthquake. The tents provided a safe place for mothers to breastfeed and for non-breastfed infants to receive ready-to-use infant formula. Such a large and coordinated baby tent response in an emergency context had never been mounted before anywhere in the world.

Local setting

Baby tents were set up in five cities but mainly in Port-au-Prince, where the majority of Haiti’s 1555 camps for displaced persons had been established.

Relevant changes

Between February 2010 and June 2012, 193 baby tents were set up; 180 499 mother–infant pairs and 52 503 pregnant women were registered in the baby tent programme. Of infants younger than 6 months, 70% were reported to be exclusively breastfed and 10% of the “mixed feeders” moved to exclusive breastfeeding while enrolled. In 2010, 13.5% of registered infants could not be breastfed. These infants received ready-to-use infant formula.

Lessons learnt

Thanks to rapid programme scale-up, breastfeeding practices remained undisrupted. However, better evaluation methods and comprehensive guidance on the implementation and monitoring of baby tents are needed for future emergencies, along with a clear strategy for transitioning baby tent activities into facility and community programmes.

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