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At a glance: Liberia

In Liberia, UNICEF and partners take fight for better nutrition to community clinics

© UNICEF/2010/Scott
At a UNICEF-supported outpatient feeding centre, Lorpu Sana feeds her once undernourished daughter, Afie, 2, with the high-energy therapeutic food 'Plumpy'nut.'

By Adolphus Scott

MONTSERRADO COUNTY, Liberia, 16 June 2010 – In an effort to reduce child mortality, UNICEF and its partners in Liberia are working with several community clinics to provide daily outpatient therapeutic feeding for children suffering from undernutrition in several Liberian counties.

Lorpu Sana, 24, and her daughter, Afie, 2, were waiting recently at one of these overcrowded clinics, located in a ‘rehabilitation community’ just outside the capital, Monrovia. A few weeks before, the little girl had been suffering from undernutrition. But now she is recovering, thanks to therapeutic feeding and medical care. 

Young mothers

Afie and her mother were seated among many other young mothers and their children, waiting to be treated. Due to lack of space, some mothers stood around a makeshift waiting area just outside the main clinic building. 

© UNICEF/2010/Scott
Afie, 2, and other children are given an appetite test at a 'rehabilitation community' clinic outside Monrovia, Liberia's capital.

“One month after Afie was born I stopped giving her breast milk. I began giving her a local baby food called ‘bread custard,’” explained Ms. Sana as she fed her daughter Plumpy’nut, a high-energy therapeutic food provided by the clinic. “One week afterwards, she began to develop sores in her mouth and on her body. At times she would just faint. I was so confused I didn’t know what to do. It was an elderly woman living in my neighbourhood who showed me this place.”

Ms. Sana’s story is similar to that of many teenage mothers, who represent a majority of those using outpatient therapeutic feeding centres here. According to Liberia’s 2006 comprehensive food security and nutrition survey report, poor child feeding practices, and the lack of timely introduction of complementary foods, are among the primary causes of child undernutrition.

UNICEF nutrition experts advocate for exclusive breastfeeding for a child’s first six months and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding starting in the sixth month. In Liberia, however, many young mothers stop breastfeeding their babies very early, introducing the children to foreign formulas other than breast milk.

Reducing child deaths

UNICEF and its partners in Liberia are working to improve the nutrition practices of mothers and offer treatment to those affected by undernutrition.

“With support from UNICEF, we are currently making an impact in the overall reduction of child deaths through the treatment of malnutrition in six populated areas in Montserrado County,” said Alvin S. Samuka, supervisor of the Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) at the rehabilitation community clinic. “We also treat referral cases from hospitals and clinics all over the country,” he added.

In recent years, Liberia has made significant strides in the reduction of child mortality. The number of children who die before their fifth birthday fell from 219 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 145 in 2008. Factors contributing to this decline include the increasing access to basic health services, higher immunization coverage and a regular bi-annual vitamin A supplementation campaign.

More work to be done

Despite these achievements, however, there is still more work to be done in reducing child mortality. According to UNICEF Representative in Liberia Isabel Crowley, in a country where the majority of the population is classified as poor and 90 per cent are vulnerable to food insecurity, acute and chronic malnutrition are serious concerns.

“The need to take our OTP activities to all of Liberia’s 15 counties and reach other children out there is so important to us,” said Ms. Crowley.

Back at the rehabilitation clinic, Ms. Sana received Afie’s Plumpy’nut supply for the next two weeks. Holding her baby in one hand and the bag in the other, she explained how the programme has helped her baby.

“The people you see here have saved my baby’s life,” Ms. Sana said, looking at Afie, who held a Plumpy’nut sachet in her mouth. “God really passed through these people to help. If it wasn’t for them, I would be telling a different story today.”



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