In Pakistan, Empowering Mothers to Treat Malnutrition at Home

ACF’s Technical Assistant Kendra Hughbanks reports from Thatta, Pakistan, where recurrent floods and changes in the water table have had dire impacts on food production.
Kendra with children in Pakistan.
Kendra with children in Pakistan.

Stepping up onto the porch of a one-room house, I was met with the wide, dark, and curious eyes of a little girl sitting on her mother’s lap. Hardly two years old, Saima seemed healthy enough as she wriggled in mom’s arms. But the staff of our Outpatient Therapeutic Program (OTP)—our community outreach nutrition program—explained to me that even though she weighs in at 9.2 kilograms now, she was a mere 2.7 kilograms when Fatima brought her to the OTP site for lifesaving care.

Saima squirmed as her mother, Fatima, registered her to receive weekly allotments of the ready-to-use therapeutic food Plumpy’nut, a product designed for the nutritional rehabilitation of malnourished children . The staff knew them both, as Fatima has been bringing Saima to our mobile treatment center near Sujawal for a few months. ACF supplies Fatima with RUTF like Plumpy’nut to take home, and since her struggle with severe malnutrition, Saima has been able to gain the weight she needs to survive and grow.

Our mobile OTP sites serve as more than malnutrition treatment registration centers. For one thing, they provide community education programs that support the overall health of the families that come to us. I went into the one-room house to sit with Fatima and Saima, surrounded by 30 other women with their young children, to listen to one of our community mobilizers explain the importance of hand washing. As she lathered the backs of her hands and the spaces between her fingers, she elaborated on how doing something as simple as remembering to wash children’s hands can keep them from getting sick. Outside, another community mobilizer led the same session for the men of the community. We’re not just giving Fatima and other parents the tools and knowledge to improve and maintain the health of their families—we are giving them the independence to treat their children’s malnutrition from home, and a sense of ownership over their families’ wellbeing. Since our OTP team is mobile, we help hundreds of families help themselves in multiple communities throughout Thatta.

Action Against Hunger’s role in Pakistan is multifaceted. In responding to the recent, unprecedented flooding of the Indus River and the rising salinity of the soil and groundwater, we’re also introducing salt-resistant crops and looking for new ways to remove salt from drinking water at the household level. In my next post, I’ll share a few more details about our innovative household desalination project.

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About Kendra Hughbanks

Kendra Hughbanks

Kendra is one of Action Against Hunger's Operations Assistants, supporting our headquarters staff and field teams in coordinating and integrating our programs.