Nutrition projects help propel communities to a healthier future

Publié: 27 septembre 2011 15:33 CET

By Nancy Okwengu in Turkana, Kenya

Lokimaryang village (which means the place of yellow soil) is one of the oldest villages in Turkana and has been hit by repeated drought. Small Turkana manyattas (huts) are sparsely distributed in the vast dry land. In this drought stricken land, experience of poverty, deprivation and hunger is not unusual.

Women take on much of the hard labour for their families; cooking, building houses and walking long distances to fetch water. It is therefore not unusual to find hundreds of women at the Lokimaryang health center to receive medical care. Most of the medical needs have their root in poor nutrition. The most affected people are children under five, pregnant or breast-feeding mothers, and the elderly. The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) focuses on this group to provide a range of nutritional interventions.

The health centre serves up to 20,000 people, with each patient’s nutritional status assessed when they arrive and monitored as they treatment progresses.  

Irene Njoki Njiru, the nutrition team leader, explains the process of assessing malnutrition levels of children: “We take their weight and measure their upper arm circumference. If they are under five and their upper arm is 5.5-11.4 cm, they are severely malnourished. If it’s 11.5-12.4 cm, they are moderately malnourished. If it is at least 12.5 cm, they’re normal,” she says.

Children at the center are given therapeutic foods depending on how severely malnourished they are. If they are well enough to receive outpatient therapy, they are given Plumpinut. If they are malnourished and also have swelling, diarrhea or other medical conditions, they are sent to the stabilization centre where they are given therapeutic milk. If they just need some supplementary feeding, they are given Unimix.

The biggest challenge that the KRCS faces with this programme is that the recipients of Unimix fail to use it exclusively for themselves. “Often the whole family depends on this little share,” says Irene. “It is difficult to see quick changes. To counter this, we have linked most families to the general food distribution. Only then will each malnourished child’s food be safe.”

Were it not these interventions, the fate of many would be unknown due to traditional myths. “Traditional methods of healing include cutting the child because it is said that letting out blood will make the child better. If the stomach hurts, a little cut above the stomach with a razor or something sharp is thought to be the cure. It is no surprise that many Turkanas have scars around their bodies,” adds Irene.

It is true that much has to be done in the coming months. However, the success that has been achieved already is an inspiration to many to continue helping the millions affected by drought in Kenya.