Reclaiming Young Lives in the El-Nino Affected South

By Bethlehem Kiros

SHEBEDINO WOREDA, SOUTHERN NATIONS, NATIONALITIES AND PEOPLE’S REGION (SNNPR), November 2016 – Looking drowsy and barely active for a two-and-a-half –year-old, Maritu Sultan is sitting on a hospital bed next to her father, Sultan Lentata. Two days ago she was admitted to the Shebedino Hospital Stabilization Centre (SC) due to oedema caused by severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Sultan rushed his daughter to the health post in his kebele (sub-district) when her feet and facial swelling and vomiting became worse. The health extension workers (HEWs) at the health post referred his daughter to the hospital as she needed immediate attention. Maritu had received treatment for SAM in the Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programme (OTP) at the health post in the past and recovered well, however she relapsed after a few months. Sultan admits he knows the reason for it,

“The HEWs instructed us on how to feed her after she was discharged but we did not have the means to give her what she needed,” he says.  Referring to himself as a poor farmer, he says the recent drought brought calamity on his household. “To begin with, I do not have much land and the corn I planted was destroyed by the flood and hail that came after the drought. So there was not much to eat at home,” he elaborates.

Two and a half years old Maritu Sultan is admitted at the stabilization center in Shebedino hospital to receive treatment for sever acute malnutrition and Edema.
Maritu Sultan, two-and-a-half-years-old, and her father Sultan Lentata in Shebedino Hospital Stabilization Centre for severely malnourished children. Sultan says his daughter became ill due to shortage of food. “The drought decreased our yield and flood and hail destroyed what I planted so there wasn’t enough food for the children at home.” ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Meklit Mersha

The SNNPR is among the six regions in Ethiopia that have been particularly affected by the recent El Niño-caused drought and flooding, with 71 out of 137 woredas (districts) in the region classified as priority one woredas, requiring urgent humanitarian response. Consequently, UNICEF Ethiopia has continued its support to the Government of Ethiopia for the strengthening of Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), a programme that offers a package of services to tackle malnutrition.

Through the provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) at health posts and therapeutic milks and essential drugs at the SCs, a high number of SAM cases are being treated in the region.

Shebedino hospital, where Maritu is being treated, is among the 286 health centres and hospitals that have SCs for in-patient care in the region. According to Zerihun Asres, a stabilization nurse in the hospital, the number of SAM cases referred to them is declining, as the majority of cases are treated as outpatient at health centres and health posts.

Though it has only been a couple of days, Sultan is pleased with the progress his daughter is showing. “She can now take the milk they give her without throwing up,” he says. “I do not want any of my children to go through this again. Once she is discharged from here, I have to do my best to provide for her so that she can grow healthy.”

Tigist Angata is another parent grateful for the SAM treatment her firstborn son, Wondimu Wotei received. “I had almost given up because he was very small and I did not have enough milk to nurse him,” she recounts.  At six months old, the HEWs in Telemo Kentise health post found in her kebele referred him to the SC in Shebedino hospital. He was only 3.5 kg at the time, approximately the size of a healthy newborn. Upon his return from the SC, he ate RUTF for a month and was discharged when he reached 4.4 kg. “He ate so well, which made me realize how much my son was deprived of food,” says Tigist. She adds that she is trying her best to prepare food for him at home, based on the lesson she received from the HEWs. However, eight-month-old Wondimu has not gained any weight since he was discharged from OTP. Her family’s livelihood is based on what her husband earns working on other farms. Due to the drought, he has not been able to work much since last year, which has caused a serious food shortage in their home.

Tigist Anagata with her first born, 7-months-old Wondimu Wotei.
Tigist Angata with her firstborn, eight-month-old Wondimu Wotei, who was treated for SAM at the Telemo health centre Stabilization Centre as an in-patient and later at the Telemo health post as an outpatient. He was discharged from treatment after he gained one kg. UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Meklit

Though poverty seems to have a firm hold in her home, Tigist feels like the situation is better than what it used to be when her son was sick. “I was very distressed at the time because I was sick and he did not seem like he had much hope. But the therapeutic milk and food have brought him back to life and I am very happy and thankful for that,” she says. Her hope is for Wondimu to grow strong, become educated and find a better life than her and her husband’s.

Through the contribution of many donors, including the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO), UNICEF supported the Government in treating 272,165 SAM cases across the country from January to October 2016. Of those treated, 21,671 children were admitted for treatment in SCs while 250,494 received SAM treatment in the OTP. In SNNPR alone, CMAM services are available in all 106 woredas.

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