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Kenya refugee camp cuts child malnutrition

Aid workers at a refugee camp in north west Kenya have slashed child malnutrition by doubling up nutritional supplements, stepping up feeding and setting up community feeding programmes. The Kakuma refugee camp houses 80,000 refugees who have fled wards in neighbouring countries such as southern Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. Life there is hard, with malnutrition, disease outbreaks and malaria a constant problem.After gearing up efforts to tackle malnutrition, the number of badly malnourished children in the camp has dropped from 1,800 last November to fewer than 1,200, says the United Nations. That’s a fall from 17 per cent of children to 8 per cent in the space of the last six months.

Most badly malnourished children at the camp are among the 13,100 Somali refugees re who arrived at the camp from Dadaab, in north east Kenya, last December, said the Kakuma medical unit. “Acute malnutrition tends to happen over short time changes. Children, newly arrived, were probably debilitated from all the movement, first from their home country, later from Dadaab to here,” said a spokesperson.“Also, due to the sudden congestion of the camp and consequent lack of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities, waterborne diseases and an outbreak of cholera were recorded inside the camp, highly affecting children and causing sudden weight loss,”  he told the United Nations news service, IRIN.

One driving factor behind the turnaround was aid workers doubling the amount of the build-up food, Plumpy’nut from 400 cartons per month to 800 since February. Plumpy’nut is a ready-to-use peanut paste high in protein and energy. Developed by a French nutritionist and based on a popular chocolate spread, Plumpy'nut contains vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, and minerals including calcium, magnesium and iron.

Community feeding programmes were also brought in, to involve the community more in looking after malnourished children, while and limiting the amount of time malnourished children spend in treatment centres. Before, children could be admitted to treatment centres for as long as possible till they improved. But aid workers have cut their stay to about a week. After that the recovering child is put on an out-patient feeding programme and given therapeutic food every morning supervised by nutrition nurses. Mothers are have also been taught the best way to feed their children and given support from a mother-to-mother group. Once the child has started to improve the mother is given a week’s supply of Plumpy’nut to use at home. 

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