Treating Siargao children suffering from malnutrition in the wake of Super Typhoon Odette

UNICEF works with the Government to help improve programmes to address malnutrition in areas recovering from the typhoon

Micaela Papa
Siargao youth suffer malnutrition in the wake of Super Typhoon Odette
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Ysa Cascante
13 April 2022

Like many residents of General Luna municipality in Siargao island, Robelita Acedillo’s challenges didn’t end even after Super Typhoon Odette (International name: Rai) had passed.

Her husband and her five children all fell ill after the storm. However, it was her infant triplets that had her the most concerned.

A mother sitting inside their home
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Ysa Cascante
Robelita Acedillo inside their home in Siargao Island, Philippines.

“They stopped breastfeeding. They would just throw it up,” says Robelita, who started feeding the babies a thin solution of ground rice and water in lieu of breastmilk. She would occasionally add some vegetables or fish if her husband’s already small income could allow it.

The triplets also did not seem to grow. They were prone to persistent cough and fever that eventually led to their hospitalization.

A child lying on a bed
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Ysa Cascante
One of Robelita's five children. They all got sick in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette.

When municipal health workers examined the children in February, they found that not only did all of them have a form of malnutrition, but that one of the triplets, Mark Louyid Oliven, had Severe Acute Malnutrition – an urgent and deadly threat.

“You could see the bones through his skin,” recalled Robelita. “I was worried I would lose him.”

A UNICEF staff member wearing a cyan hat with the UNICEF logo
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Arby Larano
Dr. Martin Parreño, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Specialist

The case of the triplets highlights the importance of nutrition in emergency response, according to Dr. Martin Parreño, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Specialist.

“Often attention is put on infrastructure and food assistance, but we need to focus on nutrition as well, as malnourished children are nine to 12 times more likely to die than a normal child,” he said.

Parreño adds that calamities such as typhoons can exacerbate both food insecurity and disease – two main drivers of malnutrition.

“In an evacuation center where everybody is all clustered together, if one person gets diarrhoea, everyone will get diarrhoea. Floods can also contaminate the town’s water supply.”

“Children who have experienced Odette also experience stress, which can affect their eating habits as well as lower their immunity.”

Along with children under five years old, Parreño says pregnant and lactating women like Robelita are most likely to be underserved in emergency situations.

“They may not be able to line up or compete for food packs, so we must give them priority,” he said.

Often attention is put on infrastructure and food assistance, but we need to focus on nutrition as well, as malnourished children are nine to 12 times more likely to die than a normal child.

Dr. Martin Parreno, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Specialist
A child lying on a bed
UNICEF Philippines/2022/Ysa Cascante
One of the Robelita's triplets

Robelita’s triplets were among those put on a regimen of Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a peanut-based paste containing 500 kilocalories in one serving – a quarter of an average adult’s daily caloric needs. This helps children with malnutrition gain weight. Health workers closely monitored his diet and condition. After a month on RUTF, Mark Louyid's nutrition status was downgraded from severely malnourished to moderately malnourished, with an outlook towards normal status in the future.

Even before Super Typhoon Odette, 8 in every 100 children in the CARAGA region (of which Siargao island is a part) already suffer from malnutrition. Therefore, part of responding to the next calamity would be investing in proper nutrition before emergencies happen.

“This includes regular measles vaccination, distribution of micronutrient packs and ensuring Vitamin A intake, and training local health workers in Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition to make sure that cases are immediately detected and treated,” said Parreño.


You can help reach more children and families affected by Typhoon Odette by donating at bit.ly/UNICEFEmergencies