Where are the Mosquito Nets in Haiti?

by John M. Zervos (Haiti Liberte)
During a recent visit to Haiti,
I visited homes at internally displaced persons locations throughout
Port-au-Prince and noticed a general void of mosquito nets. In fact, I did not
see one. This was perplexing; with the rest of the world, I had read and
watched the extensive news coverage of the 2010 earthquake, including the
distribution of hundreds of thousands of mosquito nets to these same
communities I was now visiting.

nets are important to vulnerable populations in the developing world. They can
provide an essential preventive measure against mosquitoes carrying
life-threatening diseases such as malaria. Of the most vulnerable people in
Haiti, are the 350,000 that remain displaced by the earthquake and reside in
makeshift homes and tents at internally displaced person sites. Conditions at
these sites are deteriorating. Residents lack access to basic services such as
clean water, education, shelter and healthcare. As sanitation and drainage
systems continue to weaken, pools of standing water are expanding, forming larger
and new breeding grounds for the disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Haitians and many long-term expats residing in Haiti, the void of mosquito nets
is far less perplexing. As Sam Bloch, founder of Port-au-Prince based Haiti
Communitere explains “There are a lot of people doing work here in Haiti,
but without coordination and analysis of impact, even the most well-intentioned
projects can fail.” Malaria prevention efforts in Haiti are no exception.
Mosquito nets are universally regarded as an important tool in malaria
eradication. However, simply passing out mosquito nets without further
deliberation has failed in Haiti. As one resident of an internally displaced
persons site informs, “The nets had either been of poor quality and no
longer functional, or had been sold by the recipient to pay for other more
urgent needs such as food and clean water.” He added, “The initial
influx of free nets also had the effect of competing with local suppliers of
mosquito nets, affecting the local economy, and with the decrease in
international donations of nets, it is impossible now to find a net for free or
for sale.”
is a spectrum of international-sponsored work being done in Haiti. On one side
are the sustainable, long-term, capacity building projects and on the other
side are the disastrous, disaster relief projects. After the earthquake the
global community sent everything to Haiti without thinking much about where it
was going. Haitians received items ranging from equipment without instructions,
to board games in different languages to winter jackets and snow skies.
mosquito net distribution and many other internationally-sponsored efforts fall
somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. They are well-intentioned efforts
with both negative and positive impacts. Stories similar to that of the bed net
are unfolding throughout Haiti. Take for example short-term medical relief.
Over 60% of Haitians lack access to quality healthcare and Haiti has the
highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. Medical professionals
from around the world have responded by donating time and money and traveling
to Haiti to provide important care from basic rehydration to advanced
need for these services is great. However, resources are not endless, medical mission
groups go home, and there is little follow-up with patients. Community clinics,
and Haitian doctors and nurses find it challenging to compete with the free
medical care provided by international groups, and many close up shop and move
elsewhere. Now, when medical relief groups are not present, it is hard to find
local care in many communities.
other parts of the country, internationally-sponsored road construction is
connecting communities and increasing access to services such as healthcare. However,
many of the roads are poorly engineered and are flooding surrounding areas,
destroying crops and increasing standing pools of water. Elsewhere, schools and
healthcare facilities have been built, but sit empty as they are unfunded or
rely on short term international groups for intermittent staffing.
my last day in Port-au-Prince, Dr. William Cadet, a long-time Haitian
pediatrician and hospital administrator, provided some insight, “Nobody
collaborates. Well-intentioned groups fail because resources are not shared,
short-term efforts are favored over long-term ones, and there is a general
disinterest in collaborating with Haitians and the Haitian government.”
$9 billion has been committed to Haiti since 2010, yet the average Haitian’s
quality of life has not improved. Sam Bloch’s organization understands this.
Haiti Communitere is based on a bold yet simple principle – by creating a
physical space for relief work, groups will be forced to collaborate and
deliberate. Haiti Communitere welcomes anyone doing work in Haiti to stop by
for a short visit, pitch a tent for a few nights, or even develop a project on
the property. By visiting, groups can form connections with local collaborators
and better coordinate efforts with other groups doing similar work in Haiti.
But until other international organizations start working with local
collaborators in Haiti, and make efforts to appreciate economic and
sociological dynamics “on the ground”, the efficacy of relief work
will continue to be questioned.

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.