Awa and Jana with their baby sister and another child in the Therapeutic Nutrition Unit in Begoua. Photo: Philine Moucheront for Action Against Hunger, Central African Republic
Awa, 20, and Jana, 14, keep a watchful eye on their baby sister, a patient at the Therapeutic Nutrition Unit in Begoua in the Central African Republic. The six-month-old is being treated at the facility for Severe Acute Malnutrition with medical complications.
It was Awa and Jana who brought their sister here to seek help from Action Against Hunger. “Our mother is sick in the hospital,” says Awa. “That’s why we take care of our little sister. She’s been doing a lot better since she came here. The medicines she needs are free, it allows us to treat her. We are reassured.”
Like Awa and Jana’s sister, severe acute malnutrition affects nearly 62,300 children in the Central African Republic. Without immediate treatment, these children are at risk of dying. Action Against Hunger teams have been helping people suffering from malnutrition in the country since 2006, focusing on the most vulnerable populations – notably pregnant and lactating women and children under five years of age. In some cases, malnutrition is accompanied by complications such as lack of appetite, fever, infections or edema, meaning that the patients require hospitalization.
“The objective of being taken into care at the Therapeutic Nutrition Unit is to treat complications associated with malnutrition,” says Brice-Regis Renaye, deputy head of the nutrition and health program in Begoua. “Once the complication is under control, the child will be referred to another unit to continue outpatient care.”
Brice makes his rounds of the unit, checking on the patients, stopping at the nurses’ office where he consults their medical records, and chatting with the caretakers of the hospitalized children. Awa and Jana share their ambitions to become a teacher and a midwife. Sandrine, 18, says she had to stop school when she became pregnant with her first child, who is now two years old. She would like to return to school to become a civil servant, but explains that she is now too old to have the right to do so. She lives seven kilometres from the unit where her youngest child is hospitalized, and takes almost two hours if she has to return home.
MAKING CARE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
From a bed in the corner, Marianne*, 22, joins the discussion, adding her thoughts on the importance of sharing information in the community so people know that it is possible to fight malnutrition and to receive help. “I want to raise awareness among people in my neighbourhood. I’m really happy with what we’ve been able to do for my child here and I want other people to benefit from it as well,” she says, noting that she has been able to access food and medicine free of charge, along with other essential items like hygiene kits, soap and diapers.
According to the World Health Organization (2018), nearly 71% of the population in the Central African Republic lives below the poverty line. To enable families to provide treatment for their children, care is provided free of charge via the “Improving healthcare quality and coverage for pregnant and lactating women and children under five years of age” program, which is supported by UNICEF and implemented in 10 health centres in the Begoua health district. Since April 2020, the program has treated 15,562 children under five in therapeutic nutrition units on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Children cared for by our teams have a 96% cure rate.
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