UNICEF supports prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition in earthquake-affected areas

Eighteen-month-old twin sisters, Sandra and Sandy, only weigh 6.2 and 4.5 kilograms respectively, and still cannot walk.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong
Eighteen-month-old sisters, Sandra and Sandy with their mother at the Mendi Hospital in Southern Highlands Province.
UNICEF PNG/2018/Huong
27 June 2018

Eighteen-month-old twin sisters, Sandra and Sandy, only weigh 6.2 and 4.5 kilograms respectively, and still cannot walk.

The sisters, youngest in a family of five children, from a remote village in Hela Province, are being treated for Severe Acute Malnutrition and diarrhea at the Mendi Hospital in Southern Highlands Province,

Unable to get help for her daughters at the Tari Hospital that closed its doors following the massive 7.5 February earthquake, mother Anita made a five-hour journey in an overcrowded vehicle from Tari to get help in Mendi when the diarrhea her babies were suffering from worsened.

“It’s been a tough job looking after five children, especially the twins. They have not been well many times since they were born. I hardly have any time to rest. I really want to do a good job but I don’t know how”, said Anita with sadness etched on her face.
A malnourished child.
UNICEF PNG/2018/Huong
A malnourished child.

Anita, who works in her garden every day to provide food for her family is too run off her feet to give the twins due care and attention. She introduced solid food when they were only two months old. Early introduction of food, perpetual inadequate feeding, unsafe drinking water and other poor hygiene practices have made these twins suffer from diarrhea, from time to time.

They were given kaukau (sweet potato) and other foods on top of breastmilk when they were only two months old.

The earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea in February 2018 and over 100 subsequent tremors have caused severe damage to 65 per cent of health facilities in the worst-hit Hela and Southern Highlands provinces. In Hela province, where Anita lives with her family, , many schools and health facilities still remain closed three months after the earthquake following inter communal fighting and violence. The situation of about 40,500 people, according to UN estimates, whose lives were already impacted by the earthquakes, is further exacerbated by the conflict.

Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM)

One of the twin sisters get attended to by a health worker at the Mendi Hospital.
UNICEF PNG/2018/Huong
One of the twin sisters get attended to by a health worker at the Mendi Hospital.

According to the PNG Pediatric Child Morbidity and Mortality Report 2016, severe malnutrition was among the five top reasons for hospitalization in Papua New Guinea where malnutrition either directly caused or contributed to a quarter of all child deaths. The recent earthquake destroyed family gardens and water and sanitation facilities and increasing poor access to food and disease, the two immediate causes of severe acute malnutrition in children. The country has interventions to address severe acute malnutrition, but still lacks a programme to treat acute malnutrition.

“Most of the children are brought here for some infection or illness. Then, they are diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, a condition offset by illnesses. In turn, severe acute malnutrition makes treating any illness much difficult. Main reasons for severe acute malnutrition include low or no awareness in infant and young child feeding of mothers and care givers, unsafe water and poor hygiene at home”, said Dr. Anna Osward, Director of the Paediatrics Ward of Mendi General Hospital. Since the earthquake, the hospital has received more cases of acute malnutrition, especially from other provinces where health facilities are not fully functioned.

Nutrition Programme Manager for Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority, Barbara Pinpin speaks to family members about the importance of nutrition at the Mendi Hospital.
UNICEF PNG/2018/Huong
Nutrition Programme Manager for Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority, Barbara Pinpin (standing) speaks to family members about the importance of nutrition at the Mendi Hospital.

UNICEF’s support in reducing malnutrition

UNICEF is supporting the Government to reduce child malnutrition in earthquake affected areas by supporting health workers identify child malnutrition, providing therapeutic feeds to save lives and delivering essential micronutrients to prevent and treat deficiencies. To date, 855 children under five have received vitamin A supplement, while 30,000 sachets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food and 90,000 capsules of vitamin A supplement have been distributed to health facilities in the worst-hit provinces.

“These are critical interventions to help infants and young children to survive.”

UNICEF is also supporting the implementation of a Nutrition Response and Recovery Plan with required services being rolled out in hospitals and district health centers as well as providing orientation for community health workers on the prevention and management of severe acute malnutrition”, said Hanifa Namusoke, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist. “We also provide support in improving water and sanitation and health care for children in earth-quake affected areas to further safeguard children’s nutritional status”, she added.

Mothers wait with their children to receive nutrition services at the Mendi Hospital.
UNICEF PNG/2018/Huong
Mothers wait with their children to receive nutrition services at the Mendi Hospital.