Bringing hope to children and fighting malnutrition in Gambia
DUWASU, Gambia, 17 July 2013 - Mariama Jallow watched helplessly as her weak, 4-month-old daughter, Mariatou, throw up the freshly prepared mashed potatoes a few seconds after swallowing it. It did not occur to her or her husband to take Mariatou to the nearest health centre. Some weeks later Mariama left her village of Duwasu, in The Gambia’s West Coast Region, and went to stay with relatives in another village to deliver her second child. The fact that Mariatou was severely malnourished was not discovered until a few months later when Mariama returned to Duwasu with her new baby.
“When I first saw Mariatou, I could see straightaway that she was malnourished,” said Sulayman Sowe, the Community Health Nurse (CHN). “By then, she was barely a year-old and was losing weight. But her stomach was expanding and she had rashes on her face and arms. After informing her parents about malnutrition and its consequences, they immediately agreed to let me enroll her in the programme for severe acute malnourished children.”
Malnutrition in children in The Gambia is a result of a combination of several factors including a high disease burden, inadequate feeding with nutritious foods and poor feeding practices and care. According to the 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 1 in 5 children under 5 (17.4%) in The Gambia are moderately underweight and 4.2% are estimated to be severely underweight. Stunting and wasting have increased from 22.4% and 6.5% in 2005 to 23.4% and 9.5% in 2010 (MICS 2005 & 2010).
Nutrition is a key component of the Government of The Gambia–UNICEF Country Programme. It supports the provision of nutritional supplements such as Vitamin A and therapeutic feeding and promotes good nutritional practices. As part of the country programme and with funding from the European Union, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), introduced in 2011 a programme to support severe acute malnourished children which has been able to save the lives of more affected children by providing therapeutic feeding and timely treatment of medical complications.
The programme conducts community screening of the nutritional status of children under five years. Children who are severely malnourished without medical complications are enrolled and receive therapeutic feeds and those with medical complications are admitted in treatment centres to receive treatment and therapeutic feeds
Thanks to the nutrition support provided to Mariatou, a little over 2 months after being enrolled, her condition began to improve. Today, over a year later, Mariatou is a well-nourished, happy and healthy 3-year-old who has been deemed well enough to be taken off the programme. She is among 3,164 children who have been reached and treated for severe acute malnutrition through the programme.
“It is a miracle,” Mariama, who now has 3 children, declared delightedly. “About 2 years ago, I would not have believed that my daughter would survive to be this age. My family is very grateful for the support and, now that Mariatou is stronger, hopes to receive some help with her education once she starts school.”