By Maggie Farrand
Meet Fassouma. She’s 18 years old, married with three children. She and her husband grow millet and beans on their land to support themselves. With five mouths to feed, however, they often do not have enough food for everyone. Recently, Issa, her youngest child – only 1½ years old – began to show signs of malnutrition.
The family lives in Gassafa, a large village in the Zinder region of southern Niger, about 60 miles from a paved road. Luckily, Gassafa has the only functioning health clinic in the area. Counterpart International works closely with this health post, helping identify and treat cases of malnutrition and providing much-needed food aid.
Fassouma was able to bring Issa to the health center to be seen by a community health worker. She was told that Issa was severely malnourished. He was immediately put on a rehabilitation program: each week, he was fed packets of PlumpyNut, a therapeutic peanut paste. In addition, Fassouma was provided with a corn and soy mixture to provide nourishment to the other members of her family.
Even with weekly allotments of PlumpyNut, Issa did not recover. After three weeks, he was referred to the district hospital in Gouré, 60 miles away.
Counterpart, as part of the Multi-Year Assistance Program (MYAP) funded by USAID, initiated a free transportation program for severely malnourished children and their caregivers to travel to the Gouré District Hospital. Prior to Counterpart, the only way to get to the hospital was by way of trucks that came for the weekly market day, provided one could pay their high fare. If not for Counterpart’s intervention, Fassouma would not have been able to get her son to the hospital.
Once they arrived in Gouré, Issa was placed in an intensive rehabilitation center at the Gouré District Hospital. Counterpart partners with the Gouré health district to provide care for severe cases of malnutrition at this hospital. This partnership has allowed the hospital to offer more resources to its patients and caregivers, in the form of care and education, and thus can welcome more patients into its doors.
Issa was quickly admitted into the first phase of treatment: Stabilization, where he was given antibiotics and anti-malarials to treat his accompanying illnesses. Five times a day, he was fed F75, a starter formula designed especially to treat the most extreme cases of child malnutrition. It includes a digestible amount of protein and carbohydrates, the two most important nutrients Issa was lacking. Once Issa reached a stable level of nutrition, he moved into the Transition phase, where he was fed F100, the next level of formula, five times a day for three days.
In the Recuperation phase, Issa was monitored and continued to be fed F100 until he met the necessary criteria for adequate weight and nutrition. While Issa was undergoing treatment, health workers at the hospital, trained by Counterpart, worked with Fassouma so she could identify the causes and signs of malnutrition. She learned what is needed for sufficient nutrition in adults and children, and important foods to include in her children’s daily diet.
Issa and Fassouma have since returned to Gassafa, healthy and with a better idea of the importance of a nutritious diet. Counterpart continues to provide comprehensive care to both malnourished children and their caregivers, helping to create a system to improve lives and communities in Niger, with an eye toward long-term self-reliance.