Giving every child in Congo a second chance to live
With early treatment, children facing severe acute malnutrition can grow and strive
Three-year-old Chris is an orphan child living in Lékoumou region, in the southwest of the Republic of Congo, on the border with Gabon. Life is not easy for a child growing within this community of more than 96,000 inhabitants who survive mainly on subsistence farming.
Morbidity and mortality rates in Lékoumou region are among the highest in Congo: in this area only one in two children survives long enough to celebrate his/her fifth birthday.
High rates of malnutrition contribute to a dire situation for children – more than three out of ten children in this region suffer from chronic malnutrition, compared to about two out of 10 children in the rest of the country.
A long recovery journey for a brave kid
After his mother passed away in Pointe Noire, Chris was taken to Sibiti, one of the districts in the Lékoumou region, to live with his grandmother, Ines. In 2018, Chris became severely ill and had to be taken to the Matibi integrated health centre.
"When Chris arrived at our health facility, he was very sick. He had a serious condition called edema, which causes swelling all over the body. His legs and his face were swollen, and he couldn't speak, he would just cry all the time. While sitting, he would keep defecating on himself. Even when we would put him on his back and tie him with a loincloth this would worsen the edema on his body," says Rigid, a midwife from Matibi integrated health centre.
"When we receive children in our health centre, we first look at their physical condition, we take their weight and height, and we do other tests. The results will help us determine if it is a case of moderate acute malnutrition or severe acute malnutrition, and the kind of treatment we need to provide.”
“Chris was a case of severe acute malnutrition with complications. We had to put him on antibiotics because he was coughing and we gave him vitamin A supplements.” continues Rigid with a sense of pride as she explains the different steps, she took to support Chris’ recovery.
“After giving him therapeutic milk used to treat severe malnutrition with complications, Chris felt better and the edema started decreasing. When his appetite came back, he started eating ready-to-use therapeutic food. Now he has a healthy appetite, and he eats well,” says Rigid.
“After spending two weeks at the hospital, Chris is now back at home with us,” says Chris’ grandmother Ines. “He is now healthy, happy and full of energy to play with other children his age. For me it is still painful to remember the time when he was sick - he could neither eat nor stand. He was just not himself anymore. His malnutrition was really bad, and he is not the only child in our area to have suffered from that.”
A free-of-charge service available to all
The Matibi health centre is part of the Community Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme, which was launched by the Congolese Ministry of Health in 2019 with the support of UNICEF. This programme is free of charge and is available to all families in the districts of Bambama, Indo, Komono, Matibi, Mayéyé, Moussanda, and Zanaga in the Lékoumou region.
The CMAM programme is part of a Food for Peace (FFP) project implemented by UNICEF with the support of USAID. This initiative aims at providing lifesaving treatment to children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. To date 39 children in Sibiti, including Chris, have been treated and have now recovered from severe acute malnutrition.
Since 2018, the number of people visiting the Matibi health facility has been increasing and the facility receives today between four to seven cases of severe acute malnutrition per month.
Through strong public sensitisation efforts and regular community outreach sessions, the CMAM programme provides parents and caregivers in Sibiti with key information on how to prevent malnutrition and how to identify the signs of malnutrition in children. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to promptly seek treatment for any child presenting the signs.
"Things have definitely improved over the years, but some families still don’t know that they can benefit from this programme and that is it free for everybody,” says Jean Michel, Hygiene Service Associate at the Matibi integrated health centre. “We need to keep investing in awareness raising and communication with communities to make sure that children like Chris receive early treatment and get a second chance to live".