Screening for malnutrition at home during Covid-19

Mothers learn how to use MUAC to screen for malnutrition at home

Jean Panel Fanfan
Cedeline donnant du plumpy nut a son enfant
UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler
25 septembre 2020

Instead of going to the health center and risking exposure to the spread of COVID-19, mothers are learning how to use MUAC to screen for malnutrition at home. This UNICEF project, executed by the NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF), is funded by The Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) and in support of the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP).

Saint-Louis Cédeline, 23, looks sad and gloomy when she talks about the condition of her child, suffering from acute malnutrition. All the symptoms of the disease are there, the child is growing very poorly for her age. She bathes her delicately, because the child is very fragile.

“When I have money, I feed her three times a day and wash her gently because she also has serious skin problems. I apply lotions all over her body. She sleeps on clean sheets. I take care of her to keep healthy,” explains Cédeline. “However, things are not always easy. Sometimes she spends long sleepless nights caring for the child who cannot sleep. “I have to lull her all night," she whispers.

Cédeline lives in Palant, a town in northwestern Haiti. The mother of two has seen new coronavirus affect her family, considerably. Her husband, a fisherman, can no longer sell his fish as before. “Before, tourists came here and hotels bought a lot of fish,” she breathed. “Today people don't buy fish anymore, and too little money comes home.”

While COVID-19 spread, she learned how to take her child’s MUAC, which prevents her from going too often to the health center and exposing herself or her child to the virus. There, nurses gave her advice on how to take care of her baby. She also received plumpy nut, a ready-to-use therapeutic food made from peanut paste, to regularly feed her baby girl. “Right now, the indicator is between red and yellow,” she says. If the MUAC is yellow or red, the child is severely acutely malnourished and needs treatment. “I have high hopes that one day, it’ll be green, and my child will be cured," she projects.


Serving the community

Louise Béthanie is the lead-mother who taught Cédeline to detect malnutrition in her daughter. Every day, the woman with the vivacious looks and the confident voice, goes house to house showing mothers how to use MUAC-tape to screen children for malnutrition. “I teach mothers to take the children’s MUAC. If the cursor shows red or yellow zone, the situation is serious, and the child is referred to the health center immediately. If it’s on the green, I congratulate the parents and encourage them not to let the child fall into malnutrition,” she explains.

When the first cases of COVID-19 were in the country, there was a drastic decline in institutional and community activities. Parents were afraid to attend health institutions and contract the virus, while health workers and providers did not have the necessary protective equipment. With funding from ECHO, UNICEF and the NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF) have trained lead-mothers who can train other mothers to screen their children for malnutrition.

Certainly, Bethany has an innate desire to help her neighbor, her dedication is reinforced by the availability of care. “I chose to raise awareness about malnutrition because I found an institution that takes care of children. Otherwise, even if I had educated parents on how to feed children, they would not have the means to give them adequate food,” she says.

Béthanie en train de former un groupe de mère sur le périmètre brachial
UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler
Bethany forming a MUAC mother group

Reduce health center visits to protect mothers

“UNICEF supports several partners to conduct community activities, including training lead-mothers who teach other women how to take MUAC," said Erline Mesadieu, nutrition specialist at UNICEF Haiti. "Mothers can monitor the nutrition of their children and give them the plumpy nut, if necessary".

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic still prevails, malnourished children must continue to receive good health care. This simple but effective innovation has made it possible to reduce visits to health institutions and protect mothers and children against the virus.

Béthanie en train de prendre le périmètre brachial d'un enfant
UNICEF Haiti/2020/Edler
Prise de périmètre brachial d'un jeune enfant pour détecter la malnutrition