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Mozambique, 30 January 2017: Drought through the eyes of a child

© UNICEF Mozambique/2016/Dengucko

By Cate Heinrich

GAZA, Mozambique – Something was wrong when the doctor led me into the children’s room at Guija Hospital in Gaza Province, Mozambique. The photographer, Julio, travelling with us stopped in the doorway, looked at me, and then did not enter. He knew with one glance it may not be possible to photograph, with no parents present in the room. He understood the fewer people in the room, the better, as the babies receiving IV fluids were quietly resting.

What struck me was the stillness. From my previous job as a primary school teacher, the one thing I know is a room of children is never usually this quiet.

There was no movement from the seven babies, and their single ward beds appeared gigantic, in contrast to their tiny bodies. I looked into the eyes of a baby girl who was staring straight at me. She stared at me, but could not move or interact, for she was extremely weak following her admission to the hospital for severe acute malnutrition caused by the current drought in Guija village.

I wanted to move forward and talk with her, to say a simple Lixile (hello in the local Changana language). But she looked straight ahead, with no energy to respond to the doctor in the room. I walked out of the children’s ward, and back to the nurses screening more children, but my mind stayed on the tiny babies fighting for their lives.

I thought of my friend’s 2-year old son. The way he does not sit still for a single minute, always cheekily wanting to play, or run, or read a story. The drought in Gaza is affecting everyone, and looking into the eyes of a baby in hospital, all I could do is hope that the medical help, supported through UNICEF, had come soon enough. I hoped the treatment would work, and the babies recovered soon.

These children were admitted to the Guija Hospital with malnutrition, following a check-up screening from health workers in the community “mobile brigades.” These mobile healthcare workers, supported by UNICEF and the Government of Mozambique, visit remote communities to provide urgent, life-saving health care to communities that have no access to medical facilities.

Eddy Fortine, the Medical Chief, said, “The mothers could see their baby was not well and brought them to the hospital. Malnutrition is increasing here because of the drought this year. We are treating at least two children each day for malnutrition, and when there are complications, the baby is admitted to hospital.”

Often the children spend 2 to 3 weeks in hospital to recover, provided with a treatment milk (F75), nutritional advice and medical treatment for any complications. Eddy told me, sadly, one of the babies (1 year 7 months) recently died in the hospital. “Sometimes, the mother does not realise the baby is sick. The head may appear larger and the feet swollen, the children come to the hospital too late. These signs are actually signs of malnutrition,” Eddy said.

Following a long day in the surrounding drought affected communities, to meet with the mobile brigade teams, and families who rely on this health care, and completely covered in dust, I asked my colleague, Benedito, if we could return to the hospital to check on the babies.

I was happy he said yes, as this time the babies’ mothers had also returned from caring for their other children at home and work. Every baby was on his or her mother’s lap, or being fed the therapeutic milk. The baby who had no energy to move in the morning, met my eyes, and this time I could see she had an inquisitive look. I knew then that she was going to fight as hard as possible to recover. The loving bond between mother and child was beautiful to see, and it was this love, and the right medical care that would help these children through the worse drought that has affected Mozambique in 30 years.

More information:
UNICEF, funded by Disney Foundation and UN CERF, is supporting the Government of Mozambique to provide Plumpy Nut nutritional treatments and mobile health brigades to 594 drought affected communities (Tete 191, Sofala 209, Gaza 130 and Inhambane 64).

UNICEF and its partners have treated 1,422 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition and reached 31,391 children and women with water in the drought affected communities (as at 27 May 2016). According to Government of Mozambique (March 2016), approximately 1.5 million people are affected by the drought in Mozambique, including 850,000 children.

There is a funding gap of US$4.4 million of the US$8.8 for UNICEF to provide ongoing assistance to the affected communities through integrated health care, nutritional support, water and sanitation.

For more information, please contact:
Claudio Fauvrelle, Tel +258 21 481 100,



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