Testing capabilities in Haiti are virtually nonexistent as tens of thousands cross the border from the Dominican Republic and social distancing measures prove difficult to uphold.
The International Organization for Migration has reported that an estimated 96,000 border crossings between Haiti and the Dominican Republic occurred between March 17-29. This number includes deportations, voluntary returns, daily crossings to purchase or sell goods, among others. They estimated that about 11,000 of these crossings are Haitians living in the Dominican Republic who have returned home. While only about 2,500 of these passed through the 3 official checkpoints where screenings are taking place, the majority arrived in Haiti illegally without being checked for symptoms.
Haiti has not been aggressively testing citizens, which likely makes their cases numbers much higher than the reported 40 confirmed cases. Haiti’s weak health system has been struggling to prepare testing and patient care structures and processes outside of Port-au-Prince. It has also been difficult to trace contacts of confirmed cases due to the deep stigma of the virus.
Doctors and nurses at major hospitals in cities continue to refuse to go to work, fearing infection with the virus due to the lack of personal protective equipment. Haiti’s Department of Public Health has insisted on only using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, a process that is accurate but takes many days for results and is currently only entrusted to one laboratory in Haiti.
In a country where most of the population works in the informal market, surviving hand-to-mouth, social distancing measures have been proven difficult to uphold. Most of the population relies on odd jobs in order to feed their families for the day. Asking a parent to stay home most often means asking their family to go without food for the day.
Crowds continue to gather in markets and other public spaces. This week, people line the streets for Rara, a festive street celebration that follows the week after Easter Sunday.
Haiti’s population has been at risk for severe food insecurity since the beginning of sociopolitical protests and economic decline in early 2019. With the looming devastation of Coronavirus, the situation could drastically worsen. With stores shuttered, public transportation closed, and transport routes potentially cut off, access to food will be a major challenge for families.
The Focus at ESPWA this past week has been on reaching out to families in the Family Preservation Program and working with teachers to create interactive, at-home learning opportunities for students.
Phone calls with families
Social workers are calling families regularly to check in on their emotional and physical health. By continuing regular communication, families know they are not alone, and staff have the opportunity to gauge where the needs are greatest so we can best evaluate and prepare for any aid response.
Teachers getting creative with materials for students
Teachers have been creating material for their classes, such as the video lesson below, which are being distributed through WhatsApp, a phone app that is popular in Haiti. Additionally, they are creating lesson packets, which can be picked up by parents during an assigned pick-up time at the campus gate.
ESPWA staff set out last week to visit families in various communities where ESPWA students live to talk to parents and students. During these visits, parents were informed of the current teaching strategies and methods being employed in order to keep children engaged in their classes, so that they may better support their children in their studies while they are home. Using the power of social connections, one student per community was tasked with passing along the information to their classmates.
Our hearts are warmed by the strength of community during times of uncertainty and fear. In cooperation with partner Overture International and other organizations in the area, ESPWA continues to evaluate how we can best support families during this time of crisis. We will continue to provide regular updates.
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