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Eritrea, 15 June 2016: North Red Sea Community commits to combatting malnutrition

© UNICEF Eritrea/2015/Tesfamariam
Mohamed Hussein and his mother Saedia.

SHIEB, Northern Red Sea Region, Eritrea, 15 June 2016 – When 17 month old Mohamed Hussein’s face and body swelled up, his mother Saedia Adam did not know what was wrong with him. A neighbor saw the boy’s critical condition and told Saedia to take him to the nearest health clinic, where the nurses diagnosed him with severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Little Mohamed’s chances of survival were slim. In this particular part of the country mothers have to walk over two to four hours to the nearest health facility.

In the most remote parts of Eritrea, often times parents resort to alternative treatment as a solution to address their children’s illness. Until recent times, access to health services and care was only available at distant hospitals or nutrition rehabilitation centres. Malnutrition remains a serious issue for children in the country, with SAM rates at 4.2 per cent.

“After the first clinic, I was given the Plumpy Nut for my son,” Saedia said. “At the second clinic I was taught how to improve on the homemade foods I feed my child and it has been wonderful. After two weeks, he’s looking better. The swelling has gone down.” In the Northern Red Sea Region many parents attribute the causes of malnutrition to socio-cultural practices. That attitude is changing in Shieb community, thanks to the Ministry of Health’s Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) programme, supported by UNICEF with funding support from DFID.

The programme equipped health centres to help mothers care for their severely malnourished children. It then sent health workers and volunteers out into communities to identify and refer these acutely malnourished children, this way there was active case finding of all malnourished children. This often involved persuading parents to accept medical care and where necessary to refer any severe cases to the hospital for further care.

Every Tuesday a malnutrition clinic is held at the health centre in Sheib. Mothers are given a week’s supply of Ready to Use Therapeutic food (or “Plumpy nut”). Take home rations of the therapeutic food can be given to a child at home as it does not need refrigeration. Nurses also teach mothers to prepare nutritious homemade foods to feed their children.

Community Health Nurse Rashida Hassan says the “Plumpy Nut is like medicine – It works like magic.” Over the last two years, Sheib clinic recorded a cure rate of more than 85 per cent, an indication that quality nutritional rehabilitation services are provided at the facility.

In just three months some 2,423 severely malnourished children lives have been saved as a result of the programme as at end of March from a target of 13,500 per annum in the three focused regions. Compared to the actual burden of some 21,600 severely malnourished countrywide, much support and efforts are still required.



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