Recovering from malnutrition: 1-year-old Hawa Keita’s story

GUÉRIR DE LA MALNUTRITION - Action contre la Faim

Photo: Toby Madden for Action Against Hunger, Mali

We did not know why she was crying and we did not know it was an illness.

Little 1-year-old Hawa and her twin brother Adama live in a village in rural Mali. Hawa is recovering from severe acute malnutrition, which was spotted and diagnosed by an Action Against Hunger trained community health worker. They recognized that Hawa’s malnutrition was so severe that she had to be immediately admitted to the nearest health facility. Here, Hawa’s parents tell her story in their own words.

“We did not know why she was crying and we did not know it was an illness,” says Hawa’s father, 28-year-old Soulemane Keita. “When Hawa got sick, it worried us because she could not sleep at daytime or at night. Even if you bathed her, she would not sleep.”

The symptoms of malnutrition are often believed to be a sign of the devil. Out of desperation, many families turn to ineffective traditional remedies. Hawa’s mother, Fatoumata tried to help her daughter using traditional medicines: “I boiled potions and gave it to Hawa to drink. We have a tree called Bambara Tereninfu, we used it with mango to wash her.”

But their daughter’s condition only got worse. “Her belly made a noise and it swelled. When she is hungry, there was no way to stop her crying” says Fatoumata.

“We knew to go to the health centre because the community health workers pay visits to our village”, says Soulemane. On the day an Action Against Hunger trained community health worker visited their village, the parents quickly took their daughter to her. “She helped us. She showed us Hawa was sick, that she was malnourished.” The community health worker used a MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) band, to test for malnutrition. Recognizing that Hawa’s malnutrition was severe and would need medical attention, she advised Fatoumata and Soulemane to take their daughter to the nearest health centre — about 10 km away.

“It was only when we went to the health centre that we knew how sick Hawa was.” At the health centre, there are specialized nutrition nurses, trained and supported by Action Against Hunger, who were able to provide specialized care to Hawa. “They gave us peanut food (Ready To Use Therapeutic Food) – and the first day she ate only half of the peanut packet. In the night we gave her more and now she’s eating it well.”

Hawa is now back home, her condition is improving, and she is catching up with her twin brother. “She plays, she’s recovering slowly, and sleeps well. She is putting on weight little by little”, says her relieved father. A Community Health Worker is supporting her parents to ready to use therapeutic food twice a day and monitor Hawa’s condition closely.

Alongside the therapeutic food, Hawa is also breast-feeding once again, a good sign that her condition is improving.

“The twins are doing well”, says Fatoumata, once they’ve been given their bath and fed, they sleep tightly”.

Awareness of malnutrition is low in rural Mali and many parents like Fatoumata and Soulemane don’t know how to recognize the signs. Action Against Hunger’s groundbreaking project aims to increase the proportion of malnourished children treated, by transforming access to treatment through community health workers. Community health workers can reach a far higher number of children in a much more cost effective way, and give the same quality of care as a health facility.

“They helped us a lot” say Hawa’s father.