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Saving children from malnutrition in drought-affected Angola

© UNICEF Angola/2012/Nunes Correia
Justina Cambovio, 25, feeds her daughter Liliane Juelma with therapeutic milk at the therapeutic feeding center in Huambo, Angola.

By Yolanda Nunes Correia

LUANDA, Angola, 18 June 2012 – One-year-old Liliane Juelma was diagnosed with malnutrition in May.

“She was with diarrhoea, vomiting, breathing problems and fever,” said her mother, Justina Cambovio, 25. “I had to rush with her to the hospital.” Liliane was admitted at the therapeutic feeding center in Huambo, Angola.

Incidence of acute malnutrition among children under age 5 has risen, leading to an increase in admissions of severely malnourished children in Angola’s therapeutic feeding centers, particularly in Huambo, Bié and Kwanza Sul.

This is one of consequences of the drought currently affecting 10 coastal and central highland provinces of Angola. Agricultural production has dramatically decreased and increasing water shortages have been reported. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, agricultural production has decreased by an estimated 400,000 tons. As a result, almost 400,000 families are considered vulnerable to food insecurity.

Treating and preventing malnutrition

There is concern that Liliane might be getting ill again. She is still being breastfed, but she has not been getting all nutrients that a child her age should. Apart from her mother’s milk, she eats corn porridge prepared with water and sugar.

“I have not exclusively breastfed my daughter for six months – only for one month,” said Ms. Cambovio, referring to the UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. “I didn’t know I should do it differently,” she said.

© UNICEF Angola/2012/Nunes Correia
One-year-old Liliane Juelma was treated at the therapeutic feeding centre in Huambo, Angola, in May. She was suffering from malnutrition but is now on the road to recovery.

Angolan health workers are being trained to treat malnourished children and to reduce children’s risk of illness and death from severe malnutrition. A series of capacity building trainings took place in Huambo, from 5-9 June 2012, part of a national nutrition strategy implemented by the Ministry of Health, in close collaboration with UNICEF and WHO. The trainings were designed to help health workers develop skills for integrated management and quality treatment of malnutrition.

“The trained health workers can immediately apply the newly acquired knowledge on malnutrition treatment, as well as provide support for prevention and treatment at the community level. This will avoid large numbers of children being hospitalized in the therapeutic feeding centers,” said Dr. Futi Tati, Chief of Nutrition Department in the Ministry of Health.

More work to do

The Government of Angola, with the support of its partners, is responding to the increase in severe acute malnutrition by providing therapeutic milk and Plumpy’nut, a ready-to-use therapeutic food, as well as drugs such as antibiotics to treat opportunistic illness.

Liliana benefitted from these treatments. “After taking medicines and getting better, I have to feed my daughter every three hours with a special milk provided by the nurse,” Ms. Cambovio said. “She is doing much better now. I am relieved! We will hopefully go home very soon. We have been here since the end of May.”

When the treatment protocol for malnutrition is applied correctly, a malnourished child admitted to a therapeutic feeding center has strong chances of healing within four to six weeks. Many children have been saved, some of them in difficult circumstances. “The caregivers that I have met are motivated,” said Katrien Ghoos, UNICEF Regional Advisor for Nutrition Emergencies for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Yet there is more work to do.

“At this point, there is a need to improve the management of therapeutic supplies, as well as the development of an outreach strategy to prevent, screen and treat cases of malnutrition at community level,” advised Ms. Ghoos.

According to Dr. Futi, the Government of Angola intends to establish more therapeutic feeding centers in the country, and to promote a screening and treatment programme for malnutrition at community level.



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