An extremely severe hunger isolated the region of Meki in 2016 when, due to the climatic phenomenon El Niño, which prevented two consecutive, seasonal rains. This caused a serious drought and the loss of both the harvest and cattle.
After having received an early alert from the United Nations in 2015, the Coordination Office for Humanitarian Affairs, in cooperation with 27 Ethiopian and international agencies and institutions , designed and put forward in the whole region of Oromia an emergency plan in which the Clinic “Let Children Have Health” played a key role. Apart from being the reference centre in the area for both hospital admission and treatment of severely malnourished children, a team belonging to the Clinic has been responsible of the plan against the negative effects of malnutrition in eight nearby population hubs.
This emergency plan had as its main objective to identify and treat severe malnutrition cases as well as to strengthen the rural health system, which currently only counts on primitive health centres which are miles away and do not count with the necessary resources. We decided to motivate and educate all the workers who belonged to the rural health system so that they could diagnose, treat and follow-up malnutrition on all children and breast-feeding women. We also decided to use the clinic for all the identified cases of malnutrition as well as to impart an educational and informative course to all the population on hygiene, nutrition and malnutrition with the aim of improving the health of the community as a whole.
With the financial aid of Manos Unidas and other donors, we have carried out monthly visits throughout 2016 to those population hubs in order to examine the most vulnerable part of society; children who are less than five years of age and pregnant of breast-feeding women. Our goal is to identify all the malnutrition cases, both mils and severe, offering treatments, adequate, follow-up appointments on a case by case basis and nutritional supplements. Initially, we examined 3,732 children (between zero and five years old), of whom 33.78% suffered from severe malnutrition (1,236 severe and 25 extremely severe), and 2,810 pregnant or breast-feeding women, of whom 83.38% suffered from severe malnutrition (1,634 severe and 739 extremely severe).
In order to fight against the malnutrition from which these children and women are suffering, we have been carrying out monthly supplies of faffa since last May. Each beneficiary receives 6.25kg of faffa per month, in accordance with the public protocol of nutritional emergency. Faffa is an enrichened cereal specifically used to stop severe malnutrition: we have delivered faffa to 13,837 beneficiaries, totalling more than 8.6 tons of cereal to be able to cook at home. In addition, we have provided those patients suffering from extremely severe malnutrition who required hospital admission with therapeutic nutrition.
Patient examinations and the delivery of faffa were done in the rural health stalls with the continuous intervention and education of the rural health workers: 25 Community Health Extension Workers, most of them women, have been assisted by us, have been given the corresponding education to cover many knowledge gaps, have been provided with new resources and most importantly, they have realized the crucial role they play in improving Meki’s health system.
A child suffering from severe malnutrition had a depressed immunity system and hence any infection or pain which are theoretically mild, can end up causing death. Moreover, the severe malnutrition cases need a very diligent and slow plan to reintroduce food in their systems so that their organisms can tolerate and process it.
Thanks to the early warning we received from the local authorities, we were ready to increase significantly the number of patients who could attend doctor appointments, thereby educating and increasing the number of health workers. We managed to carry out more than 2,500 appointments per month throughout 2016, up from the 1,600 we did by the end of 2015. To be able to do so, we have had to improve and expand the clinic; fortunately, we have had the privilege to count with the financial aid of the Alcobenda’s Mayor which has allowed us to increase the number of medical offices and open two new rooms for hospital admissions, one for malnourished patients and the other for those with infections. This has allowed us to move the administration offices and the nursery school, which used to share the same building, to a new bloc of the new construction. The new infrastructure has meant a significant quality improvement, and we now officially own the License of Specialized Paediatric Clinic.
We start 2017 with enthusiasm and illusion, as we see how the rural health stalls start to provide a better service to all their users now that they are coordinated and their staff is much better formed by the clinic’s team. We have managed to overcome the emergency but chronic malnutrition and difficult living conditions are still a problem and make Meki an extremely vulnerable place. Hence, it is important to continue supporting the health staff and educating the population there, so that they know how to diagnose all cases of malnutrition, look for assistance before it is too late and this way use knowledge as the motor to progress in the future.