Agencies fight malnutrition in drought affected regions

Tuesday May 15 2018

Mothers receive a mix of soy, corn sugar and

Mothers receive a mix of soy, corn sugar and oil given for the World Food Programme for children suffering from malnutrition. AFP PHOTO | MARC JOURDIER 

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI
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Sitting in the hot sun in the dusty open field, Mary Sepina patiently waits for her turn to see a nurse at Kipsing Health Centre in Kenya’s Isiolo County.

The 26-year-old mother of five walked for three hours to access the facility with her daughter — Penina Lekilara. She had been waiting for two hours now since she arrived at the health centre at 7am.

She says this has become part of her Thursday routine. She brings Lekilara to the clinic to be checked, weighed and height measured.

Lekilara, four, is recovering from malnutrition. 

Ms Sepina is among the more than 50 other mothers who are at the clinic for one or two the same reason.

“I was introduced to the programme by my neighbour when my daughter was sick last year,” she said.

 Lekilara depends on ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) supplied at the facility.

“The nurse told me that her weight was below average and she was not healthy,” said Sepina.

According to nurse Leah, children are first weighed, their arm circumference measured, and scored.

“Children are given a z-score, based on their height and weight. Zero is normal. Lekilara’s z-score was -3, which meant she was severely malnourished and immediately given RUTF supplied by World Food Programme,” says Ms Muilu.

The normal nutritional status is defined as having a weight-for-height z-score of -2.0 or greater. Moderate acute protein-energy malnutrition is defined as having a weight-for-height z-score of -3.0 to less than -2.0.

RUTF is a high-protein peanut paste that, if administered properly by caregivers, can move a child from severe malnutrition to good health in a matter of weeks.

Common problem

Malnutrition is marked by a deficiency of essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in a diet. Without these nutrients, it becomes difficult for a child to achieve optimum health. 

Chronic malnutrition is a common problem in the drought-hit counties in Northern Kenya, afflicting approximately 38 per cent of young children.

“My daughter now feels better and is healthy. But we are here to also get our monthly supplementary porridge,” said Ms Sepina.

Ms Sepina and her daughter are part of the Blanket Supplementary Feeding Programmes (BSFPs) under, which expectant and lactating mothers and children under five receive a pre-cooked nutrient-rich blend of corn, soya and oil.

The programme is being implemented by International Action for Hunger (ACF) in partnership with World Food Programme and other partners.

“The BSFP aims to prevent nutritional deterioration in vulnerable groups, particularly children less than five years of age, and pregnant and lactating women,” said Edgar Okoth, programmes officer at ACF. He said that BSFPs are implemented in six arid counties of Isiolo, Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Samburu and Marsabit where acute malnutrition is over the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.

“The BSFP provides a package of essential health and nutrition services including screening for acute malnutrition, health and nutrition counseling and systematic treatment, alongside food distributions,” Said Mr Okoth.

The distribution is done in churches, hospitals and markets. Each site has between 500 and 700 beneficiaries

Mobilisation is done within ommunities and in Isiolo the target was to reach 25,000 people. Everybody is given enough flour for one month.

Two packets per week per child. Each packet is 1.5 kg,” he said.

“This is food to supplement what they have and not the only meal they should rely on,” he added.

Further check-up

For children with severe malnutrition, they are referred for further check-up before they are put on the therapeutically supplements
“With the worsening drought, we are seeing many severe and moderately malnourished cases. With the outreaches, we are able to handle these cases in some of the most remote locations of Turkana County.”

In late 2016, when the rains failed, a severe drought hit the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, affecting over 2.7 million people. Isiolo is one of the hardest hit counties where thousands of children are food insecure and in dire need of treatment for severe malnutrition.

According to Unicef, almost 370,000 children in Kenya now require treatment for acute malnutrition, including 72,600, who are suffering from the most severe form, which requires specialised and life-saving care.

In February, there were an estimated 343,000 acutely malnourished children. In East Africa, nearly one million children across eastern and southern Africa are suffering from severe acute malnutrition after two years of drought and the strongest El Nino in 50 years.

The region face food and water shortages, with rising prices worsening the situation as families are forced to skip meals and sell belongings.

In its June 2017 report, the World Food Programme, says Isiolo remains one of the worst drought-stricken counties, followed by Turkana, Marsabit and Wajir.

— This story was supported by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS).