Ready-to-use therapeutic food help save children’s lives in Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea
MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea, 16 February 2016 - Dalla Peter is only a couple of days away from her first birthday and while many parents look forward to celebrating this occasion, Dalla’s parents can’t wait for her to be discharged from the Paediatric Ward at Mt. Hagen Hospital.
Sitting on a hospital bed with her parents, Dalla smiles happily as she clutches a packet of plumpy nut paste and eats its content. The plumpy nut paste is a vitamin and energy enriched edible peanut paste Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) used in treating malnourished children. Two weeks ago, Dalla’s situation was dire. When her weight plummeted from 10 kilograms in December 2015, to just six kilograms in January 2016 over a four-week period following a bout of diarrhoea. Her worried parents, Hane Akand and Peter Oldong, sought medical help at Mt. Hagen Hospital because their dangerously underweight child refused to eat or breastfeed.
Effects of Malnutrition
“My baby was so sick, she didn’t want to eat anything and refused breastmilk when I tried to breastfeed her. She was a big strong baby, but when she had diarrhoea in just one month she became very thin and her skin was very dry. We were scared she would die because she wasn’t eating. When we came to the hospital, the nurses said Dalla was malnourished,” Hane says. “ In the two weeks we’ve been in Hospital, the nurses fed Dalla milk and she started getting better. Now she is well enough to eat this peanut paste which she likes very much. The doctor said we can go home because Dalla is fine now. I want to go home quickly because I’m scared Dalla might pick up another illness in the ward if we stay longer because there are many other sick children here,” a worried Hane adds.
Hane may not be aware about some of the factors that may have contributed to her daughter’s malnutrition. While Dalla’s older sister was delivered at the hospital where she received all her vaccinations over time, Hane gave birth to Dalla at home. A short drive from home to the hospital would have cost her only Kina 2.00 (US $ 0.70). Dalla didn’t receive her first vaccination until she was four months old. After exclusively breastfeeding for four months only, two months shy of the World Health Organisation’s recommended period for exclusive breastfeeding, Hane introduced her baby to soft mushy foods like pumpkin, ripe bananas and paw paw. She then gradually introduced sweet potatoes and other fruits as Dalla grew older. Protein, vitally important for a young child’s growth was missing in her diet since her parents couldn’t afford it. In addition, Dalla was cared for on a daily basis by a number of young female relatives in her village so her parents could work in their gardens. Now that Hane knows diarrhoea is caused by germs, she is not sure if Dalla’s babysitters practiced proper water, sanitation and hygiene practices while caring for her daughter.
“Even myself, I don’t wash my hands all the time when I cook our meals or when I change my baby’s nappy. I never boil our drinking water that we get from a nearby river,” Hane confesses.
Close to 45 per cent of children under five years of age suffer from some sort of malnutrition in Papua New Guinea. In 2015, UNICEF supported and accelerated government efforts to build the capacity of health workers around the country to manage severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in young children.
As a result of targeted technical support provided by UNICEF, 15 provincial hospitals now have 90 trained health workers who are able to detect and manage SAM cases. Following these interventions, an additional 2,000 malnourished children were detected and treated in 2015.
UNICEF provided high energy, fortified ready to eat food, such as micro nutrient milk, plumpy nut paste and ReSoMal (oral rehydration solutions) to hospitals in 2015 to help manage SAM cases. The RUTF helps boost a malnourished child’s chance of survival where three packets of plumpy nut paste a day can help an undernourished child gain weight up to two pounds in one week, promoting health and well-being. A further 3,000 packs of Mid Upper Arm Circumference tapes provided by UNICEF is helping health workers to screen and identify malnourished children in 15 hospitals.
Following successful advocacy by UNICEF, the Government has increased its budget for nutrition activities and has agreed to buy enough RUTF to address the country’s SAM needs in 2016.
Dalla was discharged from hospital the following day, taking with her a supply of plumpy nut paste. Her delighted mother is pleased with the supply of plumpy nut as she understands that plumpy nut does not need preparation or cooking, nor does it need to be diluted with water, thus eliminating the risk of contamination and can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time without refrigeration making it easy and safe to manage.
“I’ll bring Dalla back to the hospital when her supply is finished so the doctor can see her again. I’m very happy my daughter is well enough for us to go home now”, Hane says.