Preventing and Treating Acute Malnutrition Among Children in Eastern Afghanistan

When Abdul, a 48-year-old farmer and his wife, Habiba brought their 2-year-old daughter to the Sharan Provincial Hospital in Paktika Province, they feared her diarrhea had become so severe that her life was in danger.

Having received health education from an International Medical Corps-trained Community Health Worker who had visited their home, Abdul and Habiba knew that left untreated Abida could die.

The doctor on call first measured Abida’s height, weight, and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) to determine her growth and development; Abida weighed just under 9 pounds and was 26 inches tall. Diagnosed as severely malnourished and dehydrated, Abida was admitted to the pediatric ward. There, she underwent lifesaving treatment to restore nutrients in her body, and was kept under close observation for more than three weeks.

Initially she was given F-75 milk (a special formula fortified with vitamins A and D and used in the first phase of therapeutic feeding programs) and placed under medical surveillance to develop her appetite and get her to gain weight slowly. After a week in the hospital Abida’s body was able to absorb more protein and energy, and she was given F-100 fortified milk several times per day according to her weight.

According to UNICEF, the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition is approximately 2% in the least-developed countries and 1% in other developing countries. In Afghanistan, the Ministry of Public Health’s (MoPH) most recent household nutrition survey (2005) found a 5-10% acute malnutrition rate for the entire country (including both moderate and severely malnourished children).

In Paktika Province, where International Medical Corps has provided health care services since 2004 with support from the MoPH, more than 11 percent of children under the age of five (17,527 children) who have been screened at supported facilities suffer from moderate acute malnutrition. In addition, another 1 percent of children screened (1,750 children under five) suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. The prevalence of malnourished children is believed to be even higher than reported due to widespread insecurity and poor infrastructure in Paktika, with limited access to health facilities and proper growth monitoring services for many rural families.  In addition, approximately 4 percent of newborn children in Paktika suffer from low birth weight, according to records from government hospitals and peripheral clinics that International Medical Corps supports throughout the province.

When Abida’s treatment had been completed, she had gained over four pounds, grown by 2 centimeters, and her MUAC had increased. She no longer suffered from diarrhea, had regained her appetite, and was lively and active again, playing with the other children in the hospital ward and responding to her mother and the hospital nurses.

When Abida was discharged, Habiba expressed happiness with her recovery and warmly thanked the doctor and nurses who had helped care for her.

In the past year, more than 60 children have been admitted to the therapeutic feeding unit and treated by MoPH and International Medical Corps at the Provincial Hospital in Sharan.

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