Real lives

Real lives

 

Nutrition education is the key to ending malnutrition

© UNICEF Gambia
Binta Jallow, 34-years-old, is happy because her 7-month-old malnourished twin daughters are regaining a healthy weight thanks to the treatment and counselling she is receiving at the outpatient treatment site for SAM.

Thirty-four year-old Binta Jallow, mother to seven months-old twin girls, Ruggi and Mamakawly, agonized over the poor health of her daughters. Neither of the babies was eating properly and both were losing a lot of weight, despite all of Binta’s home-based attempts to bring them back to good health.

“One had sores all over her mouth and the other had diarrhoea, so eating was difficult for both of them. Finally, I knew that I had to take them to the hospital,” said Binta, a mother of 10 children from Nyamanar village in the Upper River Region (URR). “Of all my children, these two are the first to lose this much weight.”

The nearest hospital was the Basse Health Centre, located in the URR’s main town, Basse, about 45-50 kilometres from Binta’s village. At the hospital, both children were admitted and treated for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) with complications. 

Malnutrition is worryingly high among children under 5 in The Islamic Republic of the Gambia (IRTG), and many children suffer from recurring cases. Nationally, 10.3 per cent of under-5s are wasted and 2.2 per cent are severely malnourished. In Binta’s region, the URR which records some of the worst social, economic and nutrition indicators in the country, 13.9 per cent of the children are wasted and 3.5 per cent severely wasted. 

It is within this backdrop that UNICEF is supporting the government of the IRTG in scaling up nutrition interventions nationwide, but with particular focus on vulnerable regions such as the URR through the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme. 

Emphasis is placed on treatment of both SAM and MAM (moderate acute malnutrition), preventive nutrition, and the promotion of nutrition coordination and advocacy, thus ensuring access to nutritious foods for children in need. UNICEF has also supported the development of national guidelines for the treatment of SAM as well as job aids and a nutrition database to monitor cases.

For Ruggi and Mamakawly, health workers at the Basse Health Centre managed to stabilize their conditions with F-75 milk formulas while treating them for dehydration, mouth sores and other infections.  

“Once the twins’ condition stabilised, I was told that the girls would be referred to an outpatient treatment centre for further rehabilitation,” explained Binta. 

Based in Basse, the closest outpatient site offering community based management of severe acute malnutrition is the Centre for Nutrition Recovery and Education (CREN), one of many sites countrywide supported by UNICEF 

Binta and her twin daughters have been attending education sessions at the outpatient centre for three weeks and the twins have been steadily recovering their lost weight with a treatment of Plumpy nut and continued breastfeeding. 

“The sessions include information on food hygiene, good complementary feeding and the importance of exclusively breastfeeding our babies up to at least 6 months,” said Binta. “This is so that we can prevent our children from becoming malnourished again.” 

Supporting the CMAM programme comes under UNICEF’s mandate to prevent and treat acute malnutrition by procuring therapeutic foods for children with severe acute malnutrition. This goes hand-in-hand with support provided to the government for training community health workers to identify malnourished children and refer them to outpatient therapeutic sites for specialized treatment. 

After three weeks of specialized treatment at the outpatient centre, the nurses are optimistic that the twins, Ruggi and Mamakawly, will soon reach a safe weight to be discharged.

“My babies are doing very well. I am very happy,” says Binta. “A few weeks ago, they were both so sick that I didn’t think they would make it.”

With the education provided to Binta, the nurses are also hopeful that both Ruggi and Mamakawly’s weight will be maintained once discharged.

“For many of us, we think that we’re feeding our children the right thing at the right time when we are not,” said Binta. “This is why education is important. Once we know more about how to properly manage our children’s health and nutrition at home, they will be healthy. Now that I truly know what and how to feed my children, I am sure that they will not lose weight again.” 

 

 
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