For the Congo’s Youngest, Malnutrition Looms as Greatest Threat to Health

By Stephanie Bowen - August 12, 2009

Mianiase came to the Mugunga refugee camp just outside of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo three and a half years ago after her village was attacked. The 35-year-old has been living here ever since with her six children, ages 1 ½ to 13 years old.

Her four-year-old son, Kikuru, shows the sure signs of malnutrition: stick-like limbs and a swollen belly. What’s equally alarming is that his twin brother looks twice his size. Mianiase brought Kikuru to International Medical Corps’ supplementary feeding center at the camp a few weeks ago. Three weeks have passed since he first started receiving treatment.

“There has been a great improvement already,” says Mianiase. “I am really happy with the work that International Medical Corps is doing.”

It takes an average of 90 days for a moderately malnourished child to fully recover. That is after receiving medical and nutrition services including a corn-soy blend made with oil and sugar, as well as vitamin A, folic acid, and a de-worming medication called mebendazole. If there are medical complications, the child will be referred next door to International Medical Corps’ primary health care center.

"There are many things that can cause malnutrition,” says Crespin Mpigirwa, head nutritionist with International Medical Corps in Mugunga. “There are the long-term problems, like the war, and short-term problems such as disease and a lack of food."

It is only recently that the World Food Program (WFP) has had enough food. Back in April and May, the WFP had to cut rations because of constraints including shortages caused by the ongoing world food crisis. For people living in the camps – particularly children under age five, a decrease in food assistance makes them all the more vulnerable to malnutrition.

“[I]n Kikuru's case, his mother has no husband to help her and she has five other children to feed,” says Mpigirwa. “Kikuru's twin brother was healthy from the start, but Kikuru has struggled with diarrhea, malaria, and other ailments that affected his appetite."

The supplementary feeding center receives an average of 100 new cases of moderate malnutrition each month and is continually caring for approximately 400 patients. The severely malnourished children – approximately 10 to 15 a month – are referred to nearby Virunga Hospital, which we support by providing medications and covering the treatment costs for any child we refer.

Mianiase’s other children are doing fine, in part because International Medical Corps is ensuring they have enough to eat and tracking their growth along with Kikuru’s. With a 95 percent recovery rate, Kikuru is just one of the thousands of children whose lives International Medical Corps is saving in DRC.

 

FROM RELIEF TO SELF-RELIANCE

For 30 years, International Medical Corps has worked to relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease by delivering vital health care services that focus on training, helping devastated populations return to self-reliance.

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