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Central African Republic

Neige’s story: Recovering from malnutrition in the Central African Republic

UNICEF Image: CAR Neige
© UNICEF 2007/CAR/Holtz
Neige, 3, as she looked before receiving medical attention for the effects of malnutrition, which affects almost half of all children in the Central African Republic.

By Emily Bamford

BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic, 25 October 2007 – Neige giggles shyly and hides behind her grandmother’s shawl. Just three years old, she lives with 11 other family members in a tiny home on the banks of the Ouham River in northern Central African Republic (CAR).

Neige may look like any other little girl, but she is very lucky to be alive. A few months ago she almost died from malnutrition.

Her family is convinced that her recovery – facilitated by the direct intervention of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow – is a miracle.

An everyday struggle

From the small house where Neige and her extended family live, it’s possible to see village fishermen at work on the river and colourful birds and butterflies swarming around.

UNICEF Image: CAR Neige Mia Farrow
© UNICEF 2007/CAR/Holtz
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow with Neige while she was in recovery at the only children’s hospital in Bangui.

But the beautiful surroundings are deceptive. Life in Bossangoa is tough. Jobs are scarce and extreme seasonal variations have a significant impact on many families’ ability to maintain food supplies.

For Eugenie, Neige’s mother, every day is a struggle. With work in short supply, she must support three children as well as several other elderly dependents.

Neige’s father was a military officer posted to Bangui shortly after his her birth, and the family hasn’t heard from him since. Eugenie is occasionally able to find work making and selling honey beer at the local market. Recently, however, money has been tight and she has not been able to afford the ingredients.

Chronic and acute malnutrition

In March of this year, a UNICEF-led mission brought Ms. Farrow to Bossangoa. The group discovered Neige and her mother when they attended a UNICEF training session on maternal care.

The session was part of a community based project – funded in part by UNICEF in a joint venture with two non-governmental organizations, the International Partnership for Human Development and Caritas – to support health and nutritional services for those living in the Bossangoa area.

UNICEF Image: CAR Neige
© UNICEF 2007/CAR/Holtz
Now healthier and happy, Neige has recovered from severe malnutrition; her recovery has been hailed as a miracle by her family.

Chronic malnutrition is a common problem in CAR, afflicting approximately 38 per cent of young children here. A further 10 per cent suffer from acute malnutrition. In the country’s northern, conflict-affected prefectures, the numbers are significantly higher.

From hunger to hope

Normally, malnutrition can be treated in-situ, but Neige’s condition was so severe that Ms. Farrow personally rushed her to Bangui’s highly specialized therapeutic feeding centre, also supported by UNICEF. After a critical few days, Neige made a full recovery and returned back to her village. 

Today Neige is visibly healthier. She has a thick head of hair and is no longer underweight. With the help of UNICEF, Eugenie is learning how to provide her daughter with a more balanced and complete diet, even with minimal funds.

In addition, UNICEF is continuing its support of the village’s hospital and community-based health centres, including ACABEF, the local family-planning association. Such interventions should help the community to reduce the future incidence of malnutrition. If they succeed, stories such as Neige’s will become a thing of the past.



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