Toward the end of last year we received news from Jean Claude, the Nebobongo Hospital Medical Director, that on top of their usual patient load they were troubled by an increase of kids dying from acute malnutrition.
We knew we had to act and were completely heart-broken by some of the horrific photos sent to us of some of the kids they were receiving. While another outside group has been working to prevent poor patients from developing malnutrition while away from their fields, to date, there has not been a comprehensive child malnutrition program at the hospital. We sent over funds immediately and asked them to develop a program that would address this issue. Dr. Christine Bataneni, the hospital pediatrician, led a team from the hospital on a fact-finding journey to Nykounde hospital several hundred kilometers away. Nykounde hospital is supported by Samaritans Purse and has developed a malnutrition program and they offered to share their knowledge and experience with our partner doctors and nurses. During their trip, they were able to observe Nkounde hospital’s malnutrition program and receive some training they could use to model the Nebobongo plan after.
A young child hospitalized upon arrival at the hospital
The program they implemented has three basic components:
Opened a hospital ward for acutely malnourished (starving) children. Children that are diagnosed as acutely malnourished are admitted to the hospital for a three week stay while they are fed a high nutrient diet consisting heavily of peanut-butter and soy flour with other vegetables. During this time, the family receives counseling from staff including the Chaplin on proper nutrition and issues that are keeping the family from having food. A major goal is to prevent this situation from occurring again.
Started an outpatient program for chronically malnourished (nutrient deficient) children. Children that are chronically malnourished attend a weekly program on Wednesdays where they receive a high nutrient meal. The program starts out each Wednesday with a devotion and prayer time and then an educational component. The food is distributed at the end of the program. The families receive nutrition training and are sent home with soy flour to use thought the week. This should prevent the kids from becoming acute and equip the parents to understand how to properly feed their families.
Developing an agricultural training team. This team would go village to village teaching better farming practices, soil management and distributing new seed varieties that will support a healthy diet. The long-term solution to this problem is a local solution, helping people to grow more of the right foods.
The rise of malnutrition is connected with several other social issues but the root cause is usually severe poverty. In most cases, poor families do not have the money to purchase any food to supplement their diets and eat only what they are growing in their gardens and what they can scavenge the forest. If they don’t have the right food growing, or one of of their crops fail, the result is often malnutrition, particularly for the more vulnerable children. In some cases a family may be growing enough food to feed the family, but they sell it to pay for school fees or other expenses. In many families it was explained to us that the family has to choose between feeding the children well and sending them to school.
Inside of a church next to hospital where they are weighing children for intake or weekly program
This is Leontine, age 9. She was severely malnourished and was hospitalized. She is now in the outpatient program and will graduate in about four weeks.
The 2013 epidemic of malaria and salmonella-like bacteria that took the lives of so many children, also killed over 99% of pigs and goats in the area. This is a major contributing factor to the extreme poverty of the region and the rise in severe malnutrition cases at the hospital. The meat was a source of protein and also the main source of generating income. Our hope is that bringing pigs back through our program, Animals of Opportunity, will offer one route out of extreme poverty, but also that by teaching advanced farming practices such as introducing manure fertilization, will allow them to increase yields dramatically. We hope that as Animals of Opportunity progresses, conducting this type of training will become a core competency of the church agricultural team. Our dream is to bring about increased local economic activity that will ultimately lift the region out of extreme poverty through initiatives like Animals of Opportunity, starting coffee plantations, soap making businesses, advancing k-12 education and exploring other entrepreneurial opportunities. This will likely take a generation, Lord willing, and in the meantime we need to do what we can to make sure these children have an opportunity to be a part of that brighter future.
Currently the program has about 60 children, 10 who started out with immediate hospitalization. The hospital hopes to graduate and discharge about 30 of these kids by the end of the month. While this is great news, as these children leave, more enter the program each month.
The program costs $750 a month and will run out of the funds that we supplied in July, 2016. We are also hoping to raise $1000 in addition to the monthly amount needed for the program to buy a mill for the hospital to make their own soy and corn flour. If we can assist them with purchasing this mill, it will bring the monthly cost for the program down by a couple hundred dollars and they will also be able to sell flour to families at an affordable price. This way, as families graduate from the program, they can still purchase soy and corn flour by bringing their own crops to be milled. This would allow the hospital to also employ local farmers to produce the food for the program, adding a bit more economic activity to the region rather than importing it from a big city.
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