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Over 39,000 children under five are malnourished, says official

A Man in Lagdera feeds his calves with pieces of cartons as pastures have been depleted due to the prevailing drought situation in Garissa County. [Abdimalik Ismail Hajir, Standard]

Ten-month-old Abdullahi Isack keeps suckling as he and his mother await their turn outside a dispensary in Garissa.

The last born in a family of six is emaciated; he has sunken eyes, dry skin and thinning hair, pointing to acute malnutrition.

With her baby strapped to her back, Fatuma Adhan Bile had walked about five kilometres to Sankuri Dispensary to receive food given to malnourished children.

Isack is among the over 39,800 children categorised as malnourished in Garissa County.

At the dispensary, the child is assessed; his weight and height are taken and then the Body Mass Index is established.

“This is my second visit to this facility. I have five other children at home and there is no water. My only source of water is Tana River where we fetch water in a 20-litre jerrycan for our use,” said Ms Bile.

“We have appealed to the government and well-wishers to help us because we are extremely hurt by the drought. I have a few cows which I am supposed to graze and walk to the river,” she added.

Majority of pastoralists have lost a significant number of livestock and there have been calls for intervention from the government and international community.

According to experts, malnutrition reduces a child’s brain power and makes them susceptible to diarrhoea and vomiting.

The condition also inhibits a child’s growth and limits their productivity in future.

According to Garissa County Nutrition coordinator Shamhat Yussuf, the drought in the county is dire and could worsen going by the weatherman’s warnings.

According to Ms Yussuf, some 39,800 children under five years and about 5,500 pregnant and lactating mothers are malnourished.

However, only 23,500 children and 3,900 mothers are in the food programme.

She said, so far, four children have died since January due to malnutrition-related complications, adding that the number could rise if the drought persists.

“The biggest challenges have been tracing those who are already in the programme because they keep on moving with their animals to look for pasture and water,” said Yussuf.

She said Lagdera and Balambala have recorded the highest cases of malnutrition.

The officer said the county, with support from partners, has increased screening and identification of malnourished children.

In a programme dubbed Partnership for Resilience and Economic Growth partners working in various sectors on drought intervention have come together to compliment the government’s efforts.

Save the Children, a humanitarian organisation, has been supporting the county department of health in conducting integrated medical outreaches in hard-to-reach villages that do not have health facilities nearby.

Sugow Mathey, a Nutrition Coordinator at the organisation, said they have increased the identification and screening of malnourished children who are then put under the nutrition programme in partnership with the county.

The identified beneficiaries are supplied with supplemental food which is provided by the World Food programme and Unicef. The supplies are only available at public health facilities.

“Save the Children have also been doing water trucking for health facilities to sustain operations at dispensaries and health facilities. The water is also used by communities around due to the severe drought,” said Mathey.

Cash transfers have also been done to households that have suffered severe malnutrition to cushion them and enable them to buy food.

Mathey said the organisation has also been helping the healthcare workers in capacity building to ensure they reach and screen more children and enroll them into the programme.

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