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Therapeutic feeding saves children’s lives in drought-stricken Ethiopia

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2009/Getachew
Local health worker Mulu Yohannes speaks with a mother during a home visit in Anja Jaffa, in Ethiopia’s Boricha District, to check on the progress of a young child who is being treated for undernutrition.

A new UNICEF report, ‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition’, says undernutrition is a factor in a third of all deaths of children under five. Here is one in a series of related stories.

By Indrias Getachew

ANJA JAFFA, Ethiopia, 13 November 2009 - Almaz Kare, 20, a mother of two, watches as her four-year-old daughter Masento finishes the sachet of ready-to-use-therapeutic food.

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“Masento is much better,” Ms. Kare tells her village health extension worker, Mulu Yohannes, who has come on a home visit to see how her young patient is doing.

“Before, her body was swollen all over,” the mother continues. “I am feeding her three times a day like you told me, and she is eating well. Now she is much better and there is no more swelling.”

Ongoing drought emergency
Ms. Mare and Ms. Yohannes live in Anja Jaffa village in Boricha District, located in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. The area has been hit hard by the ongoing drought emergency in eastern Africa.

“Here in Anja Jaffa, farmers don’t have anything,” says Ms. Yohannes. “When we go from house to house visiting them, we check their plots. We check what they have to eat.”

The drought has affected crops across the region, she explains, adding: “It is not just here, it is everywhere. There is no rain.”

‘Nothing on our farm’
Ms. Kare surveys her field of withering corn. Some plants look deceptively green, but when she opens them up, half of the cob is bare.

“I am in trouble,” she says. “There is nothing on our farm. My husband and I are going out to work in other people’s homes – that’s how we are eating. I have not had anything to eat yet today. I have nothing.”

© UNICEF video
More than 6 million Ethiopians require emergency food assistance due to the effects of ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa.

Ms. Kare and her family are among the more than 6 million Ethiopians requiring emergency food assistance this year, but food aid has not yet reached their household.

Treatment at the local level
Since 2008 – when the lethal combination of drought, inflation, global recession and constraints on food-aid supplies led to the onset of a nutrition emergency here – UNICEF has been helping the government train health extension workers such as Ms. Yohannes.

These local case managers learn to treat severe acute malnutrition at the community level.

Ms. Yohannes and her team started the UNICEF-supported Outpatient Therapeutic-Feeding Programme (OTP) in Anja Jaffa village. For the last five months, undernourished children who do not have medical complications have been able to receive therapeutic feeding close to home through the programme.

Ready-to-use-therapeutic food
Ms. Yohannes asserts that there are many benefits to offering feeding close to home. For example, children and their parents no longer have to travel long distances before receiving care.

“Before, [parents] would have to sit out in the sun, and they and their children would suffer,” she says. “They had to walk for half an hour to get there.”

But now, OTP health workers in the village distribute the ready-to-use-therapeutic food Plumpy’nut, a peanut paste fortified with milk and vitamins. They also visit mothers at home once a week to monitor how much children are eating.

More aid needed
Besides supporting decentralized treatment like the service provided by the health extension workers of Anja Jaffa, UNICEF is responding to the situation in Ethiopia with other interventions in a range of areas – including emergency nutrition, health, water and sanitation, child protection and education.

However, the nutrition emergency remains dire. Following a mid-year review, UNICEF increased its funding target for emergency nutrition needs in Ethiopia from $20 million to $30 million.

Overall, UNICEF has appealed for $52 million in international support for its emergency response in Ethiopia this year. To date, most of that amount remains unfunded.





10 November 2009: UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the work of a local therapeutic feeding centre in Ethiopia’s Boricha District.
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