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Malawi, 9 January 2017: Saving children in the midst of acute food shortage

© UNICEF Malawi/2016/Scott
Nenani with her son Ramsey who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

9 January 2017 – Malawi is facing a hunger crisis emanating from consecutive years of flooding and erratic rainfall. About 6.5 million people, a third of the population, are in need of food aid with children being the most affected.

UNICEF with support from its development partners has been conducting mass screening campaign for malnutrition for under 5 children to ensure early detection and treatment of malnutrition. One such family that has received such services is that of Nenani Banda, 35, from Chikwawa District.

Due to prolonged dry spells that affected the Lower shire District of Chikwawa, Nenani’s crops were scorched by the sun. Like many farmers in the district, Nenani looks to her tiny plot of land to feed her family.

“I didn’t harvest anything this year,” she says. “We had two weeks of dry weather at the beginning of the rainy season. This came when we had already planted and the crops died when they had just germinated.”

Now, the family is struggling to get food and are eating once a day. And this is taking a toll on the health of Nenani’s children.

“My last born son, Ramsey, has been ill on and off from pneumonia, diarrhea and – most recently – fever. This is because he is not getting supplementary food apart from the breast milk,” says the mother of three.

Ramsey was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition at Mfera Health Centre after he was referred to the clinic by a local health surveillance assistant during a mass screening campaign in their village.

“I was told that he was malnourished and was put in the chiponde (local name for ready to use therapeutic food) programme,” says Nenani. “Ever since he was admitted in the programme, I can see some changes in his health,” she says.

Although Nenani’s family is struggling to get food, Ramsey is the only child who has suffered from malnutrition. “I want him to get well and grow up to become a teacher or a doctor. So I will try to work hard to find food for him and his siblings,” says Nenani who is now doing piecework with her unemployed husband to feed the family.

© UNICEF Malawi/2016/Scott
Agnes with her grandson Isaac who is suffering from malnutrition.

Ramsey’s story is not an isolated case. In 2016 alone, UNICEF in collaboration with its partners reached over 1.9 million children in over 14 districts, which are severely affected by the hunger crisis.

In the same district of Chikwawa, UNICEF also managed to reach out to fifteen months old Isaac Lekisoni who was suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Isaac’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer meaning Isaac had to stop breast feeding at a tender age.

After the death of his mother, Isaac and five other siblings, were taken in by his maternal grandmother but now he spends his afternoons at her paternal home with her 52 year old grandmother, Agnes Phiri who has also taken over the caring of other siblings.

“I noticed that Isaac’s health was deteriorating and I asked her grandmother to take him to the hospital,” says Agnes. “I also requested that in the day, he should be staying with me as I saw that he was getting less care as her other grandmother is always busy in her field.”

With support from UNICEF, Isaac was admitted in the OTP at Mfera Health Centre and he was put on ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) as part of treatment.

“I didn’t harvest anything this year. We had no rain,” says Agnes. “To survive, we had to do winter farming by the river. We are fortunate that we have managed to get two bags of maize but these will not last us long because we are a big family,” she says.

Ramsey and Isaac’s cases are among the many cases of malnutrition that UNICEF and the Government of Malawi are dealing in the aftermath of the devastating floods and erratic rainfall.

With support from various partners UNICEF is continuing with the mass screening exercise to ensure that children that were on the programme last year are followed up as well as ensure that community support systems are available. This will also ensure that children like Ramsey and Isaac do not relapse into severe malnutrition again.



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