Feeding centres give children new lease of life in Kenya
Brian and his grandmother Halima Hassan, 40, sit pensively in a camp within the compound of the Wajir district hospital. Brian looks weak and emaciated. His hair is yellow and his eyes are bulging. He looks around, unaware of his surroundings. He is probably not conscious of the scare he caused his grandmother and doctors when he was brought to the camp a few weeks ago.
Brian is one of the many children suffering from malnutrition in Wajir district, one of the areas most affected by drought in Kenya’s North-Eastern province. During the month of August, 44 children suffering from malnutrition were brought into the Wajir camp. When Brian arrived he weighed only 5 kg, yet he is one and a half years old. He could not open his eyes; he was vomiting and had diarrhoea. “Brian was sick for two months and his situation was deteriorating by the minute,” his grandmother says. “I had taken him to the Eldas Isiolo dispensary, run by a local doctor, but there were no medicines. That is when we decided to come here,” she adds.
Ministry of Health worker Mr. Wadere at first doubted that Brian would survive. “He could not even lift his arm,” he says, raising Brian’s arm and urging him to leave it extended up in the air. Brian manages, but only for a few seconds, demonstrating a real lack of energy. “We had to feed him through a nasogastric tube with special fortified milk and then with plumpy’nut (a peanut butter-based food supplement) for three weeks,” Mr. Wadere adds.
The entire North-Eastern province faces a monumental struggle to cope with the rising cases of malnutrition among children affected by the drought. That is why camps like the one in Wajir are critical. The camp is currently congested and a tent has been set outside to accommodate the influx of malnourished children and their parents, who also stay in the camp while their children are undergoing treatment.
With funding from UNICEF, children at different levels of malnutrition are benefiting from therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes. These programmes are available in several health facilities within the district. The feeding programme is part of a package of nutrition services. Other components of the package include immunization, vitamin A supplementation, treatment of childhood illnesses, distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, de-worming and antenatal care for mothers. General health education is also provided. The integrated outreach services are facilitated in all of Wajir district’s 34 health facilities.
On average three children are brought into the Wajir camp every day. Most of them come from Isiolo district, which is 200 km south of Wajir town. Malnutrition is severe in the drought-stricken North-Eastern province. Almost 80 per cent of the populations in this region are nomadic pastoralists who rely on cattle for survival. However, as most of the animals have died of starvation, they now depend on relief food.
Halima and her family of eight children and four grandchildren depend on the supply of relief maize: 50 kg every six weeks. They also get a weekly supply of UNIMIX (vitamin and mineral enriched flour) and plumpy’nut for the children. “But this does not last long,” Halima says. “My family is big and, within two weeks, the maize is finished. The whole family then has to share the food supplements,” she adds.
“Brian now weighs 6.5 kg, which is a big improvement, although he is still underweight,” notes Mr. Wadere with a big smile of achievement on his face. Halima believes her grandson is now better and can go home since she can eat without the nasogastric tube. Brian’s skin is still wasted but he is responding to treatment. This is a sign of hope for Mr. Wadere.
Brian was discharged from the camp three days later, but only with sustained efforts by UNICEF and its partners will children like Brian survive and reach their full potential.
© UNICEF Kenya/2006