Voices from D.R. Congo: Bitondo and Baby Wabiwa

For a four-year old Congolese girl and her mother, hope and healing after a critical nutrition intervention from ACF
Baby Wabiwa, pictured with her mother Bitondo.

For 29-year-old Congolese mother Bitondo Patience, malnutrition was a silent threat that attacked her daughter without obvious indicators. Her four-year-old, Wabiwa, showed signs of illness—vomiting, lack of appetite, running a temperature—but just what afflicted her was a mystery to Bitondo.

It wasn’t until her little girl’s feet started to swell that Bitondo got scared. Two weeks after Wabiwa got sick, Bitondo took her to see a traditional healer, but she didn’t improve. A visit to a prayer room netted the same unfortunate result.

But when volunteer health screeners supervised by ACF came to Bitondo and Wabiwa’s home village of Kalama, things changed quickly and for the better. Wabiwa’s swollen feet helped screeners make a quick diagnosis of malnutrition, and take her for free treatment at a health center in Kilambwigali.

Screenings that Save So Many Congolese Children

ACF provides such screenings in abundance in D.R. Congo, a nation reeling from decades of conflict and neglect. The organization has worked in the country since 1997, and has developed a robust relationship with its Ministry of Health to strengthen D.R. Congo’s health system capacity in fighting deadly malnutrition. This collaboration with the Ministry of Health has resulted in highly successful innovations like the Emergency Nutrition Pool (the PUNC, or Pool d’urgence nutritionnelle au Congo), and the Enhanced Nutrition Program (RPN, or Renforcement du programme nutrition) that have enabled the government to deploy medical resources, technical know-how and nutritional support across its vast territory in response to deadly outbreaks of malnutrition.

In 2010 alone, ACF trained nearly 4,000 public health workers and equipped 476 treatment centers, ensuring that 42,000 severely malnourished people—the vast majority of them children like Wabiwa—received life-saving care. And in 2011, Action Against Hunger’s impact was even greater, saving the lives of more than 48,000 individuals from deadly hunger—a new record for ACF.

Bringing Baby Wabiwa Back to Health

Every Thursday morning, Bitondo made the more than five mile trek with her daughter from Kalama to Kilambwigali, a trip that took upwards of two hours each way. Bitondo says the journey was well worth it, as Wabiwa received high-quality nutritional therapy, including packets of Plumpy’nut, a protein-dense ready-to-use therapeutic food or RUTF.

And although the journey on foot was long, Bitondo is grateful that she could take her daughter to get care and then bring her home the same day; she does, after all, have four more children at home and another on the way.

“It was a blessing for our family that Wabiwa could stay with us at home while receiving treatment for her malnutrition. I was able to be present for her and to my other children, as well. I’m so thankful that Wabiwa’s health has improved so dramatically. The swelling in her feet is gone, and she has regained her appetite. I thank ACF for its wonderful work.”

—Bitondo Patience, mother of four-year-old ACF nutrition program participant Wabiwa Patience, DR Congo

She’s also grateful for the information ACF staffers gave her about the root of Wabiwa’s malnutrition—undernourishment. Bitondo, an agricultural worker whose income potential was hindered by the regional insecurity, was struggling to provide adequately for her growing family. Wabiwa had been eating very little protein-rich fish or meat, surviving mostly on fufu, a starchy paste made from cassava.

Thankfully, little Wabiwa was thriving after completing just two weeks of ACF nutritional treatment. The edema in her feet had disappeared, as had her fever and vomiting symptoms. Her appetite grew strong. Program staffers and community volunteers encouraged Bitondo every step of the way, ensuring that Wabiwa received an uninterrupted course of treatment before she met discharge criteria.

And only a month after first setting foot in the Kilambwigali center, Wabiwa has been given a clean bill of health. She has been cured of her malnutrition. She’s seen such hardship in her young life, but in four short weeks, she was back to being four years old.

Tell Us What You Think

How has this story inspired your thinking about programs combating malnutrition? What messages of hope would you share with Bitondo and Wabiwa?