Sourced from UNICEF by Tracy Cabrera
Twins Norhata and Norhaya under the care of government volunteer Saida.
MANILA — Based on data from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), one in every two children in the Bangsamoro region is malnourished and the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation worse as children miss out on health and nutrition services due to severely limited outreach to remote barangays made more difficult by restrictions on movement within the region.
Reports also showed that strict community quarantines have likewise contributed to the problem with the loss of employment and less income for already poverty-stricken families living within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Examining several children, government volunteer Saida easily recognized the symptoms of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and gave them supplemental food and vitamins. She also encouraged the parents to give their kids bigger meal portions, a bit of difficult advice to follow given the meager income of most families in the BARMM.
“Malnutrition is common in our town especially among families with many children. Food is scarce so when babies start eating solid food, they are given small portions compared to the rest of the family,” Saida disclosed, adding that dietary diversity is poor and mothers often could not breastfeed because they themselves are malnourished or too busy working the farm with their husbands.
She knows the risks of SAM all too well. When left untreated, severely malnourished children are more prone to diseases. In her 11 years as a volunteer, she’s seen them suffer from health complications, stunted growth, and even death. When the family missed their weekly visit to the center, she got worried and visited their home to check on their situation.
Saida worked with one family to improve the nutrition of their twins and their older siblings. But starting a vegetable garden to supplement the family’s meals and the vitamins provided by Saida was not enough. The twin’s progress was excruciatingly slow.
But help came just in time. UNICEF, in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) for Mindanao, delivered boxes of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to their health center.
These supplies—for 20 rural health units in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao provinces—are part of the Covid-19 response in BARMM supported by the Government of the United Kingdom and UNICEF Philippines.
Under this partnership, some 90,000 children under 5 have been screened for SAM since October 2020. Furthermore, over 29,000 pregnant, lactating women and caregivers are being reached with messages about proper infant and young child feeding.
Nutrition workers assess the nutrition status of the children by measuring the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) or checking the weight-for-height/weight-for-length of infants and children aged 6-59 months old. Depending on the severity of malnutrition, they provide RUTF to the children and help them recover in six to eight weeks. Moreover, nutrition workers provide information to mothers and caregivers on the causes of malnutrition and how to prevent it.
With the right treatment and support, a child with even the most serious SAM case can make a full recovery like Norhata and Norhaya. Thanks to the effort of Saida and their parents, the twin’s height, weight, and MUAC is now normal.
But the real challenge is maintaining their normal nutritional status.
“The twins are just two of the many SAM children here in our town. Some of them are not even reached by our services because of many reasons including armed conflict,” Saida explained. “To help these children, we need to support the provision of food commodities and supplements like the RUTF.”
Her fervent hope is that the government looks into the grave nutrition status of children in the whole Bangsamoro region and how it impacts all Bangsamoro people. “We need more investment in nutrition for every child in BARMM.”
“Children who have severe acute malnutrition (SAM) are too thin for their height and age. SAM is a serious child health problem especially in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) where remoteness and poverty make access to basic health and nutrition services difficult,” Saida stressed. (AI/MTVN)