Congo, Democratic Republic of the

In DR Congo, community-based clinics lead the fight against child malnutrition

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2008/Serge W.
Meal time for children at the Shaloon Medical Centre in the locality of Binza Meteo, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 14 October 2008 – The locality of Binza Meteo is one of the poorest in Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo. The roads are in a bad shape, water and electricity are scarce and most people do not have a steady job.

According to UNICEF’s flagship report, The State of the World’s Children 2008, 31 per cent of children under the age of five in DR Congo suffer from moderate to severe malnutrition; 12 per cent of babies born here have low birth weight; and only 24 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their children’s lives.

To address these problem in Binza Meteo, the UNICEF-supported Shaloon Medical Centre, housed in a local Catholic church, works on combating malnutrition.

The small centre gives basic care to pregnant women and children under five. Among the services offered are prenatal consultations and counselling, assisted childbirth, and nutritional support for malnourished children.

Reducing child mortality

“My twin babies were very small and skinny, certainly because my breast milk is not enough to feed them both. I stopped breastfeeding when they reached a year,” said one mother whose children were undergoing treatment at the centre. “They are three now and look like they are one year old.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2008/Serge W.
A recuperation room at the Shaloon Medical Centre, located in a Catholic church in Binza Meteo.

The Shaloon centre is supported through a partnership among UNICEF, the Government of DR Congo and several non-governmental organizations. It is part of the larger effort by UNICEF, other partners and the government to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4: reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

To this end, the government has developed a national protocol for the management of acute malnutrition with a strong emphasis on community-based treatment. Across the country between 2004 and 2007, over 188,000 children were admitted for treatment in more than 168 UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centres like the Shaloon facility.

Unfortunately, DR Congo’s lack of basic infrastructure – particularly poor roads – can often make it difficult for mothers to reach health and nutrition centres. In addition, fear of stigma still keeps many mothers from bringing their children in for nutritional help.

‘Ashamed’ of malnutrition

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2008/Serge W.
A mother of twin babies in recuperation room at the Shaloon Medical Centre.

In the Shaloon centre, a 49-year-old woman attempts to nurse her malnourished 14-month-old orphaned granddaughter, Mayamba. Since her daughter died, the grandmother has been taking care of Mayamba and the girl’s four siblings.

When asked why she is breastfeeding although she has no milk to give, the grandmother replies: “I don’t know. It gives me the impression that I am feeding her. She is so small – I feel ashamed that I had to come here for help. What will people say about me? But if I leave her like this, she will die.”

The clinic has admitted all five of the woman’s grandchildren and will work to bring Mayamba back to health. With the proper nutrition, she has a chance to survive and live a healthy life.

Fatoumata Thiam Diallo provided the reporting for this story.


 

 

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