Encouraging mothers to Rehabilitate their Malnourished Children
UNICEF and partners continue to help ensure proper nutrition for children affected by Typhoon Odette
Annalou Dela Peña and Angelika Dulog live in different communities in Southern Leyte, but they had to deal with similar challenges as mothers. The two women suffer from hyperthyroid illness, a condition common in mountainous areas where crops tend to be low in iodine, being away from the sea.
They live in remote areas far from health facilities, and both have two-year-old children who were identified as malnourished during a nutrition screening. Their families also sustained heavy damage to their homes after Super Typhoon Rai – locally known as Odette – brought devastation in the Visayas and Mindanao Regions in December 2021.
Annalou could not hold back tears as she recalled her ordeal during Typhoon Odette. “It was the first time I’ve experienced a typhoon that strong,” she said. “The wind was howling so much that I was shivering and crying in fear. We ran for cover at my in-law’s house. I can still remember how it felt even now.”
Annalou’s house was completely damaged by the typhoon, and it will take time to gather enough resources to rebuild it. Her partner’s job as a baker is just enough to get them by daily. Angelika’s husband, on the other hand, is a construction worker whose work is unstable and dependent on the demand. Half of their house’s roof was torn off during the typhoon.
As part of the emergency response, UNICEF and Samaritan’s Purse conducted child malnutrition screenings in Southern Leyte. The activity was part of the program to support communities affected by Typhoon Odette.
Annalou took her daughter, Sophia, to a screening in Maasin Municipality and learned that Sophia had moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). “I assumed that she was just a picky eater,” Annalou said. “I was giving her vitamins, but she also runs around a lot so I thought her thin frame was normal.”
Angelika’s son, David, was identified to have severe acute malnutrition (SAM) during the screening in Bontoc Municipality. “I felt sorry for my child,” Angelika said. “At the same time, I was embarrassed. I was blaming myself.”
In order to rehabilitate Sophia and David, the mothers received a weekly supply of peanut-flavored ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) which is packed with vitamins and energy, as well as micronutrient powder packets to mix with the children’s meals. The barangay health workers, who were trained through the project, visited the families’ homes regularly to monitor the children’s progress.
“I felt sorry for my child, at the same time, I was embarrassed. I was blaming myself.”
However, Sophia and David’s weights varied, gaining and losing some each week. Annalou said she did not have the heart to force her daughter to eat a packet of RUTF regularly. Sophia did not like the taste of the micronutrient powder in her meals either. Angelika had the same problem with David. “I could not force him to eat it after a while,” she said.
As mothers, Annalou and Angelika just wanted their children to eat more and did not yet understand the importance of the prescribed food intake for the rehabilitation of a malnourished child.
Annalou admitted that she felt guilty about her daughter’s condition, which led to other negative emotions that added to her discouragement. “At times, I felt tired of doing it and I asked myself, ‘how much longer do I have to feed her this?’,” she said. “They gave me seven RUTF, and I had to travel to the health unit weekly to get more. Transportation is so expensive. I had to walk if there were no vehicles. I was so anxious all the time about what to do.”
The project team explained to the two mothers separately that their children’s condition could deteriorate, and they might end up hospitalized. The possibility of hospitalization concerned the mothers, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Through further education and continuous encouragement from the team and the health workers, Annalou and Angelika began to understand that they needed to strategize in order for their children to eat their RUTF ration daily. The team’s encouragement and the mothers’ persistence paid off as both children began to take the prescribed food regularly. Their weight increased more steadily in the following weeks. While it took a few months, Sophia finally gained half a kilogram to attain normal weight status and recover from malnutrition.
“Sophia’s eating better now,” Annalou said. “She has changed because she used to cry all the time, but she doesn’t anymore. I’m happy. Everything I had to do was hard, but it was all worth it now that she has recovered.”
Annalou continues to add micronutrient powder to Sophia’s meals as recommended so that she will continue to increase her weight. Through the project, the young mother has gained more confidence and is determined to raise Sophia as a healthy child. “Her weight is catching up with the other children,” Annalou said. “I no longer have to ask why my child is different. I sleep better now not having to think about what to do.”
“She has changed because she used to cry all the time, but she doesn’t anymore. I’m happy. Everything I had to do was hard, but it was all worth it now that she has recovered.”
Angelika learned that RUTF is a complete meal and she need not mix it with anything else for David to recover. Her determination increased when David’s status improved from SAM to MAM. After a few more weeks, David had also recovered and reached normal health status. “I was so relieved when David’s weight registered at 10 kilograms and not 9,” Angelica said. “I used to feed him hotdog because that’s what he likes. I was afraid he would lose weight, and I thought hotdog was okay as long as he was eating. I realize now that I really need to feed him nutritious food even when he doesn’t like it.”
Annalou and Angelika are grateful for the program that helped their children recover from malnutrition. Through education and counseling, the mothers also learned how to assess their own child’s condition for early detection of malnutrition, as well as to make sure their children get the right nourishment daily. #