A healthy future for Rwanda’s babies
By Jenny Clover
Gisenyi Hospital, Western Province, Rwanda, June 2011: In the busy lake-side town of Gisenyi, a therapeutic nutrition rehabilitation unit is helping to give babies a healthy start in life, thanks to support from UNICEF.
The paediatric ward at Gisenyi Hospital sees around three new cases of malnutrition each week. The hospital’s community teams work with families at home to identify malnourished children, while staff at the hospital work hard to reverse the effects of it. Parents who have children who are undernourished are given daily classes in how to feed their children properly so they can remain healthy in the future.
Venantie, mother of five-year-old Valens, is just one beneficiary of the effective programme being run by Gisenyi Hospital.
Valens was identified as malnourished by regular community based growth monitoring sessions in his home area. When he was brought in, he had diarrhoea, fever, was vomiting. He refused to eat or drink anything. He was taken to Gisenyi Hospital where he stayed for a week.
Venantie explained: “He became ill because I was giving him the wrong things to eat and slowly he just got weaker and weaker and then got sick.”
Valens was given fortified milk and high energy biscuits. And Venantie was referred to the hospital’s nutrition education programme, where she was shown how and what to cook for her son and family.
“The nurses gave us lessons in nutrition every day,” she said. “I learnt how to prepare food that is high in energy and vitamins. Now I give him not only carbohydrates, but also bananas, beans and carrots.”
Valens will be monitored for three months after he leaves hospital, with health workers regularly checking his weight. His mother will continue to receive support on how to care for him and will visit the hospital twice a month with him for check-ups.
Close to half of all children (44% DHS 2010) in Rwanda are chronically malnourished or stunted – shorter than they should be for their age, mostly due to insufficient food intake, recurrent illnesses, a lack of knowledge on infant and young child feeding practices, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, poor primary health care and household food insecurity.
UNICEF has helped Rwanda’s Government put in place community based nutrition programmes, where communities can monitor a child’s growth, provide food demonstrations and pitch in to start home or community gardens, as well as helped the country’s 30 districts to develop plans to eliminate malnutrition.
“Nutrition is the foundation for sustainable development,” explains Abiud Omwega, Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF. “This is why we take this issue so seriously and have helped Government develop district plans to eliminate malnutrition and put in place community based mechanisms to promote good nutrition. It is also why we support national Mother and Child Health Weeks twice a year, so we can ensure that every child is reached with vitamin A supplements to boast immunity and necessary immunisations.”