Treating malnourished kids in the aftermath of the storms in central Viet Nam
UNICEF is supporting local health workers to ramp up screening of children and to provide therapeutic food for severely acute malnourished children.
In the aftermath of the storms and floods that struck central Viet Nam in October 2020, the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) has sharply increased, prolonging the state of vulnerability for these communities. UNICEF is supporting local health workers to ramp up screening of children and to provide therapeutic food for severely acute malnourished children.
Thanh is a 4-year-old boy. He weighs only 8kg and he is noticeably smaller than average kids at his age. He was born prematurely and at birth his weight was 1.6 kg. His mother is often overwhelmed with work and she couldn’t spare the time to feed her son properly with nutritious meals to gain weight and catch up with his peers.
“When we screened Thanh, the circumference at the top of his arm measured only 11.5cm, which indicates the child is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Thanh was skinny but another indication that confirms his status is that he is too short for his age. We have started immediately the emergency nutrition program with him and we supply his parents with ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment that will last up to 9 weeks”, explains Dr Vu Van Tan, National Institute of Nutrition of Viet Nam.
In the aftermath of the devastating storms of floods that struck central Viet Nam at the end of 2020, UNICEF and National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) have supported commune health workers to do outreach and malnutrition screening. Thanh was one of 16 children identified as suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Preliminary data shows that 20% of children under 5 in Tra Giang commune, Tra Bong district, Quang Ngai province suffer from malnutrition. So far, over 4,700 children with severe acute malnutrition have been identified in central Viet Nam since December. Child malnutrition typically surges a few weeks after a natural disaster strikes, so more cases are expected in the region stricken by multiple natural disasters.
The local health center in this district was damaged by the storm and two months after the floods the health center is still not fully operational which complicates the follow up for the treatment. Several children and women in this mountainous area devastated by the floods continue to be at risk of diseases from unhygienic environment.
“I work in rice fields and occasionally as a casual worker in an acacia tree plantation. I earn approximately 120.000 đong a day (5 US$). The successive storms were devastating. The roof of my house was blown away by the strong wind and our crops were destroyed. Several trees in the plantation were also damaged. I had to borrow money to repair my house. Life is difficult and I get less work in the plantation, so I earn less”, said Nguyen, Thanh’s mother who is 37 years old and from the Cor ethnic minority.
Nguyen says that she was unaware that her son’s health condition was that serious until the local health workers screened him and explained to her that severe acute malnutrition can be life-threatening and can also cause long-term development problems for Thanh. She is committed to follow through with the treatment to improve Thanh’s condition and to regularly consult with the health workers to monitor his progress.
As emergency response, UNICEF has procured 60 tons of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) for central Viet Nam to treat children like Thanh who suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Additional support to improve access to clean water, better sanitation and support health care workers are aimed at improving children’s nutritional status and to boost their health condition. This approach involves timely detection of severe acute malnutrition in poor and remote communities and to provide therapeutic food to increase malnourished children’s chances of recovery. The imported RUTF is in the form of soft biscuits that do not need to be cooked and can be stored at room temperature.
In the arms of his mother, Thanh has tasted his first pack of RUTF and he found it yummy! Three bars of RUTF a day can bring Thanh’s health back in 9 weeks. Thanks to UNICEF emergency response, health workers were able to timely screen him and put him immediately on treatment. More children in Central Viet Nam and in the same situation require urgent attention. Thanh and the other children will benefit from life-saving therapeutic food every day for the next three months. UNICEF, NIN and the local health workers will continue to monitor his status and check in on the family to make sure that Thanh makes a full recovery. His mother is full of hope that his health will improve from now on and he will grow up strong!