Blog - ECHO in the field

DR Congo – Nutritional programme saves young Gerome’s life

Gerome with his mother during one of the weekly appointments in the clinic.05/03/2012 – In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), conflict has slowed down the production of food. This coupled with traditional beliefs on medicine, means that pockets of malnutrition are still prevalent. Children under five years old are constantly under threat and targeted interventions are necessary to save lives. Here is the story of a child who has just recovered from a case of severe malnutrition with medical complications.

15-month old Gerome Likanda is alive and healthy today. But four months ago, his young life was seriously threatened; sadly by a curable, even preventable condition – malnutrition.

Gerome Likanda comes from Ungandula village in Maniema province. His family strongly believes in traditional medicine. So when little Gerome started showing signs of illness, his mother took him to a traditional healer. Gerome’s condition continued to deteriorate and his nutritional status continued to worsen.

Despite strong beliefs in traditional medicine, community health workers managed to convince his family to send the child to a medical facility. This decision was supported by the local chief who told his community of the need to use the nutritional services available for malnourished children.

By the time Gerome’s mother arrived at the Obokoté centre, the boy was in a terrible condition. His skin was peeling and his entire body swollen; a condition known as oedema. Gerome was suffering from Kwashiokor, an illness caused by a lack of protein in the diet.

Doctors at the Obokoté centre in Lubutu admitted Gerome on 20 October and for the next 11 days, he received treatment at the paediatric unit of the local hospital, supported by Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI) with funding from the European Commission through Unicef. On top of the medication, Gerome was fed therapeutic milk during his stay in the in-patient centre, and his mother was given dietary instructions to follow at home.

After 11 days in the in-patient centre, young Gerome was transferred to an out-patient therapeutic clinic in his local area to consolidate his nutritional status. At the outpatient therapeutic programme in Ungandula, he received ready-to-use therapeutic food which is a paste made mainly from peanuts.

Gerome’s mother never missed an appointment; she brought him for all the scheduled visits. The community health workers also visited Gerome at home several times. His remarkable improvement has influenced the family’s formerly negative views on modern medicine.

On 30 December, Gerome was discharged from the out-patient clinic and returned home fully recovered.

Background

Maniema is a province in the DRC. The province has seven territories: Lubutu, Punia, Kailo, Pangi, Kibombo, Kasongo, and Kabambare.

Nutritional surveys conducted by Pronanut and financed by Unicef in Lubutu in October 2010 revealed a global acute malnutrition rate of 19.8%, with 6.7% suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Nutritional deficiency can lead to an increase in the morbidity and mortality of children under 5 years. Although the population is not easy to reach, quickly and effectively, COOPI has adopted a community approach (Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition) to prevent and treat severe malnutrition.

Through a Unicef project financed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), children suffering from severe malnutrition with medical complications are treated in inpatient centres. Other children with malnutrition are directed to an outpatient therapeutic programme.

By Alain Tchamba
National Nutrition coordinator, COOPI

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