By Shorai Nyambalo-Ng’ambi
For Manesi Fanuwelo, 33, the thought of losing another child to malnutrition was unbearable. In 2007, Fanuwelo, from Nkhwazi village in Chikwawa, Malawi, lost ason to the condition. The young boy was about to reach his third birthday when he died. And now, her 10-month-old daughter, Laima, was showing the same symptoms that killed her brother.
“Laima had severe diarrhea,” says Fanuwelo. “Every day, she was losing weight. I felt helpless every time I looked at her tiny body and protruding stomach.”
“I knew she was hungry and needed food but there was none in the house.”
Laima was born weighing 3.1 kg, an average baby weight. But her mother had stopped breastfeeding, complaining her breasts had developed sores.
“I stopped breastfeeding and started giving her any food that I could afford,” says Fanuwelo.
As a farmer, Fanuwelo survives by tending her family garden. But in recent years harvests haven’t been good because of late rain and long dry periods. To survive, she works in other people’s gardens.
“I can’t afford to feed my family three meals a day,” says Fanuwelo. “Most of the time we go to bed on empty stomachs.”
In Malawi, malnutrition is a major problem, especially among children under the age of five. According to the Ministry of Health, 37 percent of the under-fives suffer from chronic malnutrition.
UNICEF is supporting a small army of Health Surveillance Assistants (HSA) who are conducting nutrition screenings in local communities to identify and refer children at risk of malnutrition for treatment. The screenings target children less than five years old, pregnant women and lactating mothers with infants under six months old.
It was during one such screening Gertrude Chipembere, an HSA from Nkhwazi village in Ngabu district, identified Laima and referred her to Chikwawa District Hospital, located 30 kilometres away.
“When Laima arrived, she was not only underweight, but had difficulties breathing and was placed on oxygen,” said Georgina Majidu, a clinical officer at the hospital. “We admitted her into the nutrition rehabilitation unit, where she was given therapeutic milk, which helped her gain weight. We also treated the diarrhea.”
Discharged and life after NRU
Laima was discharged from the hospital a week later and was referred to an outpatient clinic. She continued to be monitored by health workers and received special therapeutic food as part of her treatment.
“I’m so happy that my child regained her appetite and gained weight,” says Fanuwelo. “Every day, she has improved and has regained her strength.”
UNICEF is supporting the Government of Malawi to increase services around severe acute malnutrition with support from donors including USAID, DFID and MSC Cruises among others.
“Reducing malnutrition is a battle that UNICEF is continuously fighting,” says Sangita Jacob, UNICEF Malawi’s chief of nutrition,“ With support from our donors, we’ve been making great strides. Currently,about 1.5 million children are screened across the country every month.”