Voices from the Horn of Africa: Baby Abdullahi

Abdullahi is a little girl living through a big drought. When she wasn't getting the nutrition she needed, ACF was there to help.
Abdullahi was severely malnourished when ACF came to her village. Photo: ACF-Kenya.

Looking at her now, it's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, seven-month-old Abdullahi was near death, suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Her young mother, Halima, 17, had tried everything in her power to make her baby better but Abdullahi continued to grow weaker by the day.  First she stopped playing, then she became lethargic. She no longer smiled. Due to circumstances beyond her mother's control, baby Abdullahi simply was not getting the nutrition that every young child needs in order to thrive. 

Families in crisis

Abdullahi and her mother live in the town of Sericho, in Kenya's northeast, where the region's worst drought in over 60 years is at its most severe. As water sources dry up, crops and livestock are dying where they stand, the local economy has shriveled and food prices are skyrocketing. Families across the region have been devastated, with no means of feeding themselves or their children.

Action Against Hunger is providing emergency water and food supplies to families and helping communities protect themselves against future drought. Teams are visiting villages across the region to identify and treat children suffering from malnutrition.

A very sick little girl

Abdullahi's mother Halima did not know what to do about her baby's declining health:

"My little baby was very sick for more than three weeks. She was coughing a lot and was suffering from diarrhea. I had taken her to local doctors and traditional healers many times but she was not getting any better. This really made me worry very much as she was very weak. During this time Action Against Hunger came to our village and told us that children could be taken to a hospital to have their weight assessed. They assured me that my baby would be fine if I took their advice and took her for treatment.” 

Action Against Hunger is working with local health authorities to build their capacities and skills in diagnosing malnutrition and providing specialized treatment. By improving facilities at local levels, families in traditionally hard to reach areas, such as Halima’s village, are now able to visit their local health clinics to access the care they so urgently need.

When she arrived, little Abdullahi had a high fever. Her weight was 11 pounds, far too low for her age. The health workers quickly realized that she was severely malnourished and in need of urgent treatment. She was admitted to the inpatient nutrition program to receive 24 hour around-the-clock care and special therapeutic foods to nurse her to full health.

The road to recovery

Once Abdullahi was admitted for treatment, Halima saw quick improvement in her baby's health:

“I was told that my baby would need to stay in the hospital for the next few days. The nurses were very concerned about her and fed her with small amounts of special milk every three hours throughout the night. After three days her diarrhea had stopped and she looked much brighter. On the fourth day, Abdullahi was put on different nutritious formulas to help her gain weight and after six days she finally had the strength to smile again. It was then that I definitely knew it had been malnutrition that had caused her suffering. I was so happy that she was getting better.“ 

After eight days in care, Abdullahi had added 12% to her body weight and was well enough to return home to the village with her mother. Halima was given packets of therapeutic ready-to-use-foods to continue her treatment at home. She would now be enrolled in the outpatient therapeutic program, with weekly visits to assess her progress.

“The treatment has done wonders for her body," says Halima. "I never thought that I would see my child looking so healthy.”

Now Halima is helping other mothers in the region to recognize the signs of malnutrition and encourages them to take their children to Action Against Hunger's facilities when they are unwell.

“My hope is that Abdullahi will grow in strength and one day will be able to work in the community as a nurse," she says. "To help other sick children, as she has been helped.”