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Life-saving nutrition interventions for vulnerable Somali children

© UNICEF Somalia/2009
A child is weighed at the outpatient therapeutic centre in El-Berde, Somalia.

By Iman Morooka

EL-BERDE, Somalia, 24 June 2009 – From early in the morning, the outpatient therapeutic centre (OTP) in El-Berde is crowded with women and their children seeking its services. The OTP is set up inside the town’s maternal and child health centre to treat children suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a life-threatening condition.

The staff at the OTP are busy attending to the long queue of mothers carrying their babies. They measure each child’s height, weight and arm circumference to assess nutritional status and progress of treatment. Physical check-ups to determine medical conditions are also conducted.

El-Berde, located near the border with Ethiopia in the Bakool region of southern Somalia, is one of the towns that has been receiving an increasing number of people displaced by armed conflict.

Therapeutic feeding and care

At the front of the queue, a mother named Dahaba says she came to the OTP to have her one-year-old son Ali examined. Ali was referred to this OTP, run by the non-governmental organization International Medical Corps with UNICEF’s support, when he was found to be severely malnourished and in need of immediate treatment. Dahaba notes that her son was in a state of complete frailty just a few months ago.

“Ali was so weak and sick when I first came here,” she recalls. “He was very thin. I was so worried that he wasn’t going to make it. But he is now doing better and even looks totally different. The staff told me today that next week will be the last day for us to come here for a check-up.”

Having provided Ali with weekly follow-ups, rations of Plumpy'nut (a therapeutic food product specially formulated to treat severe acute malnutrition), vitamin A and other medicines, the OTP staff decided that Ali is cured and ready to be discharged.

To prevent reversal of his condition, Ali will be transferred to a UNICEF-supported supplementary feeding programme where he will receive a monthly ration of blended foods and his condition will be monitored on monthly basis for at least three months.

© UNICEF Somalia/2009
Dahaba, a visitor to the OTP in El-Berde with her one-year-old son, Ali.

Vulnerable children

Children like Ali are the most vulnerable to the impact of poverty, food insecurity, lack of safe drinking water and conflict in Somalia.

“My son had bad diarrhoea and his body was swollen, so I brought him to ... the OTP,” said Halima, mother of one-year-old Ahmed.

The young boy was suffering from oedema, a condition of excess storage of fluid in the body caused by severe malnutrition and infection. Having gone through treatment and made visible improvement, Ahmed will soon be discharged from the OTP.

Expanding nutrition interventions

“Despite the deterioration of the security situation in Somalia, UNICEF’s nutrition interventions have been expanding during the past two years as the high malnutrition rates among children persist and we identify new pockets of very high acute malnutrition.” says Nutrition Specialist for UNICEF Somalia Fitsum Assefa.

Ms. Assefa notes that UNICEF has expanded the number of OTPs it supports from 40 to close to 200. The organization is aiming to reach more than 50,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition during 2009.

 “The good news is that we are able to reach children in desperate need of this life-saving intervention,” said Ms. Assefa. “But also the needs are great and there are very critical pockets of vulnerabilities that are not reached because of the insecurity and lack of humanitarian access.”

Critical help from partners

UNICEF and partners are responding to Somali children’s nutrition needs with a package of interventions that includes blanket feeding for the prevention of malnutrition among vulnerable children, in addition to the treatment of severe and moderate acute malnutrition through OTPs, in-patient stabilization centres and supplementary feeding programmes set up across the country.

Thanks to generous contributions by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department, the French Committee for UNICEF and the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain and Norway, UNICEF is able to provide treatment for tens of thousands of Somali children with severe acute malnutrition.



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