HAITI | COVID-19 sensitization and learning bilingually

5 July 2021


The first case of COVID-19 was detected in Haiti in March 2020. At that time, cases and fatalities were expected to be very high, triggering a need for emergency services mobilization to organize the response, as well as rapid and clear communication with communities to encourage adequate health behaviours and implementation of prevention measures.

Clairna Philome is a community health nurse in Haiti working for the Pan American Health Organization/ World Health Organization on the coordination of health emergency response. During the #LearningSavesLives webinar organized in March 2021 to celebrate International French Language Day, she explained that one of the main challenges has been that Haiti is a bilingual country (French and Creole), in which 80% of the population speaks only Creole. Most of the documentation published in the early hours of the COVID-19 crisis were in English; resources and documents had to be translated and adapted locally by the technical teams.

“As these documents had to be shared promptly with the Ministry of Health in French, we could not wait for them to be officially translated. However, most interventions to the population were done in Creole, even when the documents were translated into French from Spanish or English first locally," Philome said.

Philome is particularly involved in a capacity-building project to strengthen emergency services across the country. She reports: “I had the chance of working in the country’s 10 departments. To reach the most people, we had to develop strategies adapted to the realities of the field. For example, we had to use the common popular language in secluded and isolated areas.”

Reassuring the population was a major priority, due to the high levels of anxiety and psychosis manifested at the beginning of the pandemic, while also informing the population about the existence of the pandemic and what it could mean in a country like Haiti, which has weak health institutions, a lack of technical and financial resources, and many other challenges.

To make this possible, PAHO and WHO worked alongside the Ministry of Health and Population (MSPP), and Philome and her colleagues “had to fight to inform the population of the country’s 10 departments about the precautions needed to avoid contamination. It was also important to train health care personnel on COVID-19 case management and prevention measures, such as infection prevention and control.” Resources provided in multiple languages by training platforms such as OpenWHO.org were instrumental in training first-line health workers.

As of May 2021, the response to COVID-19 in Haiti has been very positive. The cases and fatalities registered have been lower than expected in predictions or compared to more-developed and better-equipped countries.

However, as tensions linked to COVID-19 in Haiti decline, people consider COVID-19 to be a thing of the past and are unfortunately neglecting the prevention measures recommended by MSPP. The recent surge of cases and outbreaks shows that Haiti must continue sensitization activities as the disease is still present in the country.

Free online courses for COVID-19 and other emergencies are available in French and Haitian Creole on the OpenWHO learning platform.


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This page was last changed at Tue, 13 Jul 2021 17:33:03 +0000.