Saturday, August 15, 2009

Addresing Hunger in Rural Kenya with PlumpyNut, Community Health Workers, and Drought-Resistant Seeds

“My child is losing weight…

Wambua Kangaa was brought to Kisesini Clinic by her mother because of weight loss. At 11 months of age, Wambua weighs only 12 lbs. Her mother walked a long distance from her village to bring her to the Kisesini Clinic in the hope of a cure for her illness – the illness of hunger. The Global Health Partnerships (GHP) medical team prescribed and dispensed the appropriate “medicine”: Food. (Photo: Wambua Kangaa with her mother at Kisesini Clinic)

By Angelo Tomedi
Founder of Global Health Partnerships
The problem of childhood hunger and malnutrition is not new to Kenya. As in other countries of Africa, childhood malnutrition is a major underlying or contributing cause of death for the large number of children who die before reaching 5 years of age.
However, a recent drought has worsened the food security problem in the region of eastern Kenya where Albuquerque-based non-profit organization Global Health Partnerships (GHP) works, resulting in an increase in a substantial hunger and malnutrition.
A survey of nine villages that was conducted by GHP volunteers in March 2009 revealed that about 30% of the children under 5 years of age were underweight, and one in ten had severe malnutrition. Since then the “long rains” have also failed and the situation has become even worse, with the crop failure causing food shortages and higher food prices.
The treatment of severe childhood malnutrition
An urgent priority is to identify and treat those children who already suffer from severe malnutrition. An effective proven treatment is the one that is used by Doctors Without Borders in their therapeutic feeding centers: a ready-to-use food, or RUF (a brand is called Plumpy’Nut). GHP has found a source of Plumpy’Nut in Kenya and has started a nutrition program for the children in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Families with children who have less severe malnutrition receive a fortified corn-soy flour as supplementary food. The local village community health workers help to find the most severely affected children, generally the poorest families of the villages, and assist the Kenyan nurses in the distribution of the food supplements and monitoring of the weight and progress of the children.
Global Health Partnerships' Work in Kenya
In September of 2006, GHP began to assist some local villages in eastern Kenya to establish a primary health care clinic in the village of Kisesini, located in a region of extreme poverty and lack of access to health care. With the help of many generous New Mexico donors and supporters, the Kisesini Community Health Project has been serving over 35,000 people of the Kamba ethnic tribe in 75 villages in eastern Kenya.

The Kisesini Community Health Project includes primary health care in the Kisesini clinic, and preventive care and outreach services provided by a network of 150 community health workers located in the 75 villages.

An emphasis is placed on improving health care for pregnant women and young children. Many children die from easily preventable and treatable illnesses like malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutrition. The village outreach helps improve childhood immunizations, prevention and treatment of diarrhea (sanitation and water), use of bed nets for malaria prevention, and improving childhood nutrition.

Since a prolonged drought has worsened the problem of hunger and malnutrition, the village outreach and community health workers have become an important means of reaching the poorest who are most seriously affected by the lack of food.

Alleviating hunger and preventing severe malnutrition
The hunger of this drought-stricken region of Kenya affects adults as well as children, and all need and deserve to benefit from a relief effort to alleviate their suffering. However, young children are an important priority because they are growing and developing rapidly during their first two years of life.
Lack of adequate nutrition during that critical period of time can result in permanent and devastating harm to their growth and development. Malnutrition also affects a child’s ability to fight off infection, and is the underlying cause of over half of the 10 million children who die before reaching 5 years of age in developing countries like Kenya.
In addition to the treatment of severe malnutrition with therapeutic feeding, GHP is planning a relief effort for as many villages as possible that will emphasize the prevention of childhood malnutrition.
The project will include education about hygiene and sanitation and appropriate feeding of young children (breast feeding and weaning foods), as well as providing food supplements for the children and their families. GHP is providing weighing scales so that the community health workers can monitor child growth in the villages and assess the progress of this malnutrition prevention project. (Photo: Sammy, one of the children in the village is fed PlumpyNut)
Feeding the Local Villages

I set in place during a recent visit to the area a plan to distribute food relief to families in about 10 villages with active community health workers willing and able to organize the effort at the village level (there are 75 villages in our Kisesini Community Health Project, so we can expand if funds allow). I have arranged for the community health workers and a nurse to visit every household to weigh and measure the children who are less than 2 years of age, and distribute a food ration for the child and a ration for the family. The food rations will consist of local and acceptable foods high in nutritive value.
The children will receive a monthly ration of millet flour for porridge, milk, eggs, sugar, and cowpeas (a local legume). The family will receive a ration of maize flour, beans, and oil. The children who are found to have severe malnutrition will be entered into a therapeutic feeding program that uses PlumpyNut. During a recent trip this year, I participated in some of these efforts, trying to visit some of the more severely affected families - the poorest, AIDS orphans, etc.using my own money.
I am raising funds primarily for the purchase of the food rations. A donation of $50 will feed a hungry child for one month.
A more immediate need are drought-resistant seeds, ahead of the traditional fall planting season in mid-October. See details about fundrasing event on Sept. 19

1 comment:

pediatric emr said...

Well, I hope many people with a big heart will help you to raise a funds for the purchase of the food rations. You have a good heart. God may Bless you. Thanks!