Early screening and treatment of malnutrition saves lives

How early intervention prevents malnutrition among children in The Gambia

Jama Jack
Baby undergoing malnutrition screening at a health centre
UNICEF Gambia/2018/Noorani
14 August 2018

Prevention is better than cure. This rings true for cases of malnutrition among children in The Gambia. However, when prevention falls through, early screening and effective treatment can save children’s lives, and give them a new chance to reach their fullest potential.

UNICEF and WFP successfully conducted a joint mass screening for symptoms of acute and severe malnutrition among all children under five in the North Bank, Lower River, Central River, and Upper River Regions of The Gambia. Through this screening, children with acute and severe malnutrition were identified and classified for the appropriate care.

All the screened children with acute malnutrition were given food rations by WFP. Children with severe acute malnutrition with complications were referred to the closest health facility for stabilization and treatment of underlying infection, while those with severe acute malnutrition without complications were treated with Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) at the community level. Mothers and caregivers were also educated to recognise when the child is underweight or not eating, and seek help early from their community health workers.

Mother receiving nutrition education to prevent malnutrition.
UNICEF Gambia/2018/Noorani

Referrals to the hospitals provide a window of opportunity for rapid response to malnutrition cases, thanks to the care from trained professionals. Sustained capacity building helps in delivering effective results for children. Between May and September 2017, a total of 100 health facility staff were trained on the standard protocol on the treatment and management of SAM complications, often referred from the communities. While at the health facility, the sick children receive antibiotics treatment and RUTF, for a minimum period of two weeks. The training provided health facility staff with the necessary skills to better perform this intensive care to manage SAM, thereby saving the lives of many children.

Similarly, the project supported the community management of SAM as outpatient treatment (OTP), through the training of 32 Community Health Nurses (CHN), who usually conduct biannual screening for MAM and SAM, with the National Nutrition Agency. They also conduct home visits, where they sometimes discover unreported SAM cases, and provide support to mothers to register for treatment. They also handle referrals for children who suffer from SAM with complications, for IPF treatment before they are released for home care treatment with RUTF.

UNICEF also procured essential lifesaving supplies for the treatment of SAM at the health facilities providing inpatient service, and within communities. These included RUTF, F75, F100, Vitamin A, deworming tablets, and assorted antibiotic drugs.

Water testing and purification in West Coast Region
UNICEF Gambia/2016/Jack

The project has also supported the installation of a water reticulation system at the Kuntaur Health Centre, as well as the rehabilitation of a well at the Centre for Nutrition Recovery and Education in Basse.

Jama Jack

This has helped to solve the acute water shortage at these two centres, and promote water and sanitation hygiene for healthy children. To date, 5,153 children have been admitted for SAM treatment under this project, out of which 4,197 were treated and discharged.