Therapeutic feeding for malnourished refugee children in Chad
DAHA, Chad, 2 April 2009 – Abderahman keeps a tight grip on the orange plastic cup filled with therapeutic milk – the same milk that recently saved his life. Three weeks ago, this 14-month-old toddler was a shadow of his current self, and critically underweight.
Abderahman and his family are among the 7,500 refugees who – to escape an ongoing conflict – have crossed the border into Chad from the Central African Republic (CAR) since January. UNICEF has been addressing their most urgent needs since they first arrived.
“He was already feeble when we had to leave our village, Agrosurbak,” said Abderahman’s mother, Aziza. “The four months that we had to walk and live in the bush were too much for him. His twin sister, my little Aisha, died two days before our arrival here.”
Aziza’s husband didn’t make it out of their village alive, killed with a machete when Agrosurbak was raided. Many husbands in this region have shared similar fates, and so the vast majority of refugees are women and children. And after the long walk from CAR to Chad, many of the children arrive malnourished.
“Malnutrition amongst children under five years old is one of the principal indicators to estimate an emergency’s intensity,” said UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Essaie Djombaye. “Children in this age group are the most vulnerable and the first to suffer from displacement. Lack of hygiene, food and micronutrients can result quickly in sickness or even death.”
Correctly addressed, malnutrition amongst children can be cured in 90 per cent of cases – though without professional care, the chances of survival are slim.
A recent assessment of the refugees found that malnutrition was at 10 per cent amongst children under five. In response, UNICEF trained local health workers in treating malnutrition and delivered enough therapeutic feeding materials to cover the immediate and mid-term requirements.
Abderahman was among those children who were identified during the nutrition screening. He was immediately registered in the nutrition centre that had been set up by UNICEF. During the first week of therapeutic feeding, he wasn’t able to eat by himself. His mother had to feed him every three hours with a specific milk product called F-75, which is enriched with proteins and micronutrients. If no complications occur, this treatment results in a weight increase of eight grams per day per kilogram.
'My all and everything'
After six days, Abderahman had put on one kilogram. His eyes were now wide open and he seemed to look forward to each feeding. With his weight stabilized, the treatment changed to another therapeutic feeding product, which is higher in calories and fat.
Three weeks after his treatment began, Abderahman’s eyes are shining and he is the star on his mother’s horizon. She proudly shows him off to everyone who comes to visit the nutrition centre.
Aziza may have lost her home, her husband and her daughter, but she still has Abderahman. “He is now my all and everything,” she says.
by Cornelia Walther