In Haiti, many of us don't live; we survive

With the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the cholera epidemic, Haiti has experienced many humanitarian crises in recent years. Political instability and unrest further worsen the situation in the country. Despite any setbacks, health care services are declining and the mental health of the population continues to be neglected. Hospitals were already working at full capacity before Covid-19 and have now collapsed due to the pandemic. Psychological help is inaccessible to the majority of the population which earns less than 2.41 dollars a day - in comparison, a one-hour consultation with a psychologist costs at least 50 dollars.

In Haiti, violence against women was already widespread before the pandemic, but it increased alarmingly due to the lockdown. Since 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières has led a clinic for victims of sexual violence in Port-au-Prince and registered the most cases of sexual violence since the clinic opened in the first four months of this year. Since they often live in the same household as their abusers, victims of sexual violence cannot find refuge anywhere during the lockdown. A young woman said that before Corona she participated in the program at the YWCA Youth Center, which offers tutoring and workshops on topics such as self-esteem, health, gender-based violence, and rights to around 150 girls from Port-au-Prince every year. She lives with her mother and her stepfather, who sexually abuses her, and has been on her own since the lockdown. "Because of the confinement, I have to stay at home with this monster," she said, “in Haiti, many of us don't live; we survive."

Clinics and centers like the YWCA Haiti Youth Center that were considered a safe haven for many remain closed due to the pandemic. During the lockdown, the YWCA Haiti team provided psychological support on the phone to the program participants and maintained regular contact with them. "We don’t have the choice to dwell on what happened to us… because we went through so much already,” comments Laetitia Degraff, project manager and psychologist at YWCA Haiti. Unfortunately, Corona is just one of many challenges in Haiti. The YWCA Haiti Youth Center has now reopened with the annual summer camp. It is only now that the effects of the lockdown on the mental health of the girls and young women in the program are becoming truly visible and can be specifically addressed.

Source: The New Humanitarian, July 2020

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