Julie, a survivor of malnutrition

malnutrition in DRC

Julie and her aunt at the nutritional centre

TESTIMONYSwollen feet, frizzy hair, loss of appetite and apathy, but now active and lively looking; Julie, a 3 year old girl from Kalemie in Tanganyika province, is a survivor of malnutrition.

Tanganyika province: agricultural potential and child malnutrition

Tanganyika province is a vast area of fresh water, pastures and dense forests with soil which is very fertile and cultivatable during the three farming seasons of the year. Strangely, this agricultural potential contrasts with the presence of malnutrition: half of all children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 3.8% from severe acute malnutrition (a rate which surpasses the emergency threshold of 2%).

The majority of the province’s territories are suffering a food crisis. On the markets, food products are not easily available or accessible, especially for low income households. What is more, intercommunity conflicts between Pygmies and Luba have caused huge destruction to fields and the displacement of thousands of families.

One meal a day, and sometimes nothing

Julie’s family lived in the village Kawama, located 12 kilometres southwest of Kalemie. Her father owned cassava, maize, peanut and sugarcane fields, which were the household’s livelihood. Following fighting between Pygmy and Luba fighters, the family’s fields were destroyed. The decision was made to leave the village and to move to Kalemie. They lived in unstable conditions and Julie’s nutritional health rapidly deteriorated.

In order to survive, Julie’s father transported parcels to Kalemie town centre whilst her mother, Rena, sold bits and pieces whenever these were available. During the day, Julie was cared for by her maternal aunt, and only received one meal a day, and sometimes nothing.

Severe acute malnutrition: an illness causing embarrassment

The lack of a suitable, varied diet and of adequate care caused Julie to quickly develop severe acute malnutrition. Julie’s aunt noticed the deterioration in the state of the little girl’s health: swollen cheeks, decolouration of her hair, oedema, lack of appetite and complete apathy. Not knowing the signs of malnutrition, she thought that Julie was suffering from paralysis due to wild poliovirus and decided to medicate her herself at home.

Her health continued to deteriorate and Julie became an embarrassment. She was kept indoors all the time and could no longer spend time with other people, because her family feared being mocked by their neighbours. Julie’s parents had lost all hope of life for their daughter.

A life-saving intervention from a community representative

Having noticed this state of affairs, Générose, a community representative in the Kalemie health zone, who is in charge, along with others, of detecting cases of severe acute malnutrition in the community, went to meet with Julie’s parents. She persuaded them to take their daughter to the Bwanakutcha nutritional centre which cares for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition without medical complications.

Julie was quickly taken care of thanks to the support in RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food) provided by USAID/Food For Peace. She was admitted weighing 7.8 kg, making her severely underweight for her height, and after 28 days of therapeutic food has gained 500 grams. Julie is on the road to recovery!

Little by little, Julie is recovering her health: a normal complexion, a reduction in swelling to her feet and an audible voice. The little girl is getting back to her old self, she plays and walks and, when she is hungry, she demands her RUTF! Julie even knows how much RUTF is left from day to day. She eats with appetite whilst her friends watch on enviously.

Continuing to save lives

Julie’s family understands the benefits of therapeutic food: “We had stopped believing that our daughter would survive. We had lost all hope but this project caring for those suffering from severe acute malnutrition has brought a smile back to the face of everyone in the family.”

The educational information which I received from the community representatives on Infant and Young Child Feeding is essential for ensuring our children are well nourished. I hope the project continues so that the lives of many other children will be saved”, said her aunt.

UNICEF and its partners implement a dynamic community approach with the aim of contributing to an improvement in the health of populations. Through community participation structures, more than 2500 trained community representatives ensure, amongst other things, the promotion of Infant and Young Child Feeding, actively seek out cases of severe acute malnutrition and refer them to care structures. This allows the early detection of cases of severe acute malnutrition and reduces rates of mortality due to malnutrition.

Thanks to the support of USAID/Food For Peace, the selected health zones are currently uncovering cases of severe acute malnutrition and caring for them.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 27.1 stipulates that: “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”

More info about malnutrition in DRC:

Translated from French by Amber Sherman

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Basile Lange

Basile Lange est licencié en planification et organisation sociale de l’ISDR de Bukavu. Après 10 ans passés en tant qu'animateur communautaire dans la zone de santé urbaine de Lemba, ville province de Kinshasa, il est aujourd’hui Administrateur à la communication pour le développement au sous Bureau Unicef Kalemie.

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