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Outpatient Nutrition Centers: Nursing Children Back to Health in War Zone

Action Against Hunger helps families in transition in eastern D.R. Congo

Supporting outpatient nutrition centers is one way Action Against Hunger fights severe acute malnutrition in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a region torn apart by over a decade of brutal conflict. At the centers, local health workers trained and equipped by Action Against Hunger diagnose, treat and monitor acutely malnourished children during their weekly visits.

“Mothers are happy with [these nutrition centers] because their children don’t have to stay in the hospital for a month,” said Hodaru Bulenda, head nurse at the Bitale Health Center in South Kivu, which is managed by the Congolese Ministry of Health.

"Mothers are happy with [these nutrition centers] because their children don’t have to stay in the hospital for a month." —Hodaru Bulenda, Head Nurse, Bitale Health Center

In the past, severely malnourished children had to stay in the hospital for weeks or even longer while being treated. One parent was required to stay with them, keeping them away from the rest of the family, their jobs, and their other household duties. And, some parents were forced to stop their children’s treatment because they could not stay at the hospital with them, Hodaru pointed out.

Now, because of a new national nutrition protocol and ready-to-use foods like Plumpy’nut, a specially formulated product designed to jump-start children’s metabolisms, malnourished children can visit the outpatient centers once a week to get a medical check-up, be weighed and measured, and receive ready-to-use foods to consume at home. Those with certain medical or nutritional complications are referred to therapeutic Stabilization Centers for further treatment.

The health center staff also discusses the children’s progress with their parents and trains them on how to improve nutrition and hygiene practices like hand-washing and including fresh fruits and vegetables in meals. The weekly visits continue until the children are discharged.

South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo

Laguerre, a five-year –old in Bitobolo, South Kivu, and his elder brother, Mussafir, have benefited from the centers. Six months ago, their family was forced to flee their village due to armed conflict and have been living with a host family ever since. Far from their fields, their food intake was greatly reduced. Mussafir was the first of the boys to become severely malnourished.

Their mother Fora took Mussafir to the outpatient nutrition center in Bitobolo, trekking down a long muddy path to the center. In this remote, rural region of the country, Action Against Hunger has reconstructed the shelter at the local health center and is helping to support and manage the provision of treatment for malnourished children from all over the area.

Many children newly arrived at the center were mere skin and bones, while others had swollen feet, legs and arms, signs of severe acute malnutrition. At the clinic, nurses weighed and measured Mussafir and gave Fora ready-to-use foods for the young boy. After his treatment, his appetite came back, and “now he eats everything he can get his hands on!” Fora said.

Having seen what happened to Mussafir, Fora brought Laguerre to the outpatient center to have him checked for malnutrition as soon as she spotted some of the warning signs she had learned to recognize. She now comes every Tuesday with the boys and promises to “keep coming every week.”

Thanks to the local nutrition centers, both of her boys will be strong and healthy. In time, the family hopes to be able to return to their home and pick up their lives where they left off.

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