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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Nutrition support for a Congolese community and the refugees it has taken in

By Ndiaga Seck

With Burundian refugees fleeing to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF and partners take action to provide nutrition and medical assistance to those who arrive as well as the local communities hosting them.

LUVUNGI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 11 June 2015 – “My daughter Myriam has been very ill lately. She had fever and her legs were swollen. Her hair changed. That’s why I brought her to hospital this morning,” says worried 25-year old Navran Tulinabo, from Luvungi, South Kivu province, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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© UNICEF Democratic Republic of the Congo/2015/Seck
Myriam, 2, is tested for malnutrition by measuring mid-upper arm circumference.

With her 2-year-old baby girl on her lap, Ms. Tulinabo, a mother of six, is waiting to see a doctor.

Since violence flared in Burundi in April, around 10,000 men, women and children have fled the country to settle in Uvira and Fizi Territories in South Kivu Province. As UNICEF reinforces the health system to better serve refugees and host families, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a UNICEF partner, opened outpatient therapeutic units in Lemera and Ruzizi health zones to treat severe acute and chronic malnutrition.

The effort is part of Rapid Response to Population Movements (RRMP), which aims to assess needs quickly and respond with integrated assistance in the context of the region’s complex humanitarian situation.

“When I arrived this morning, the nurse conducted some tests on my daughter,” Ms. Tulinabo says. “He weighed her, checked her arms and legs, and gave me some medicines.”

UNICEF has positioned 225 cartons of ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) like Plumpy’nut, and 30 cartons of therapeutic milk have been made available to Pronanut, the nutrition department of the Congolese Ministry of Health, for the care of more than 1,000 malnourished children.

Support to the vulnerable

Like many children in the Luvungi area, Myriam suffers from severe acute malnutrition. “Severe acute malnutrition rates are at six percent in Luvungi, and lately thousands of refugees settled here,” says IRC nutritionist Pascal Bahati. “Frequent pregnancies are listed among the causes of malnutrition in the area, as women give birth while their children are still too young. So, mothers wean children too early.”

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© UNICEF Democratic Republic of the Congo/2015/Seck
Navran Tulinabo, Myriam's mother, consults with a doctor at the outpatient therapeutic unit.

In addition, recurrent armed conflicts in the area have eroded the socioeconomic structures that once provided support to the most vulnerable families.

In the Luvungi outpatient centre, several mothers and fathers wait for their children to be consulted.

“When children arrive in the centre, we weigh them, measure their height and their mid-upper arm circumference. The doctor explains to parents what the problem is and gives them medicines,” says Bahati. “In addition to Plumpy’nut, we give children vitamin A, deworming tablets of Mebendazole, antibiotics like Amoxicillin. Some children are also vaccinated against preventable diseases.”

Bahati puts high-energy peanut paste in a plastic bag and hands it to Ms. Tulinabo. “This medicine is only for Myriam, not for other children at home,” he tells her.

“The doctor said the treatment lasts seven days,” Ms. Tulinabo says. “I must give it to my daughter morning, midday and evening.” She cracks open a RUTF package and gives the soft paste to Myriam, who swallows some of it and licks her lips. She seems to like it.

According to Bahati, parents are key to outpatient treatment, and they must follow the national nutritional protocol.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Democratic Republic of the Congo/2015/Seck
Diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, Myriam receives a therapeutic food paste.

“After a week, the mother will come take another lot of RUTF. In three to four weeks, Myriam will be cured if she doesn’t share her medicine with her siblings,” he says.

In early June, UNICEF and IRC completed a 5-day vaccination campaign aimed at immunizing 66,823 refugee and host family children aged between zero and 59 months against polio, and 59,752 among them aged between six and 59 months against measles.

UNICEF gives free medical assistance to refugees and vulnerable host families in Luvungi, Mulongwe and Bwegera, and will expand the RRMP response to other health structures if needs are identified.


 

 

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