Race against time to save Migori child from malnutrition

Samson Ochieng at the group's fruits demonstration farm in Migori. Fruits are important in eradicating malnutrition in children. [Picture: Miler Omega]
Samson Ochieng at the group's fruits demonstration farm in Migori. Fruits are important in eradicating malnutrition in children. [Picture: Miler Omega]

Titus Odhiambo deftly weighs a ten-month-old girl at Dede Dispensary in Awendo Sub-county, Migori County.

His experienced eyes and questions to the infant’s mother skilfully try to establish the child’s diet as he seeks to correlate it with weight and height of the child.

“The mother realized she is pregnant and stopped breastfeeding the child at five months. The infant is malnourished and will urgently need supplementary diet,” explains Odhiambo.

According to Odhiambo, the alternative food provided by the mother to supplement breast milk doesn’t meet the infant’s body nutritional value.

Odhiambo is one of the 25 medics recently trained by Aphia Plus, a local non-governmental organisation, on how to help curb malnutrition in Migori.

Standards

“We use standards set by the World Health Organisation to check weight and height of the child at a given age to see if they are underweight or stunted,” Odhiambo explains.

Lastly both weight and height are correlated to see if a child is completely wasted and should be placed on special diet immediately.

“Our patient is wasted from a recent nutritional deficiency and we’ll have to instruct the family to start including a protein rich diet of milk and eggs to revert the trend,” say Odhiambo before tabulating the data and collecting the mother’s information for a follow up.

The child will also be given a special peanut paste and nutrient rich porridge for free courtesy of Aphia Plus.

The data collected is forwarded to the organisation which will help in fighting high malnutrition levels among children in Migori County. They will join other stakeholders in a race to end the appalling undernourishment figures.

According to Kenya, Nyanza Province: Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2011, a report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 17.1 per cent of children in Migori County are under weight. Meanwhile 32.3 per cent are completely stunted in height with 6.4 per cent of those affected, out of a sample of 879 children, being completely wasted.

Faltering growth

The report further indicates that more than half of infant mortality rates in the world are caused by malnutrition with those who survive to adulthood likely to face recurring sicknesses and faltering growth.

John Otieno, Health and Nutrition technical adviser for Aphia Plus says their most recent report placed the number higher at 26 per cent against a national figure of 19 per cent.

“These appalling figures are caused by ignorance and poverty in the sugarcane and tobacco farming areas especially in Uriri, Awendo and Rongo sub-counties,” explains Otieno.

These sentiments are echoed by Florence Akeyo, Migori County Nutrition Officer who notes that the longer time taken for crops to grow has left most land underutilized for food crop farming despite the good climate.

“We rank highly in Kenya among high number of children who are stunted, underweight and wasted as most children are nutrient deficient despite the good climate,” explains Akeyo.

Migori County government is set to launch a KSh30 million milk programme to over 80,000 young children in all 600 public Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres where children will be given 200ml packets of milk twice a week.

Phase one of the project will be done in partnership with the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB), United States International Development Agency (USAID) through its subsidiary Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (KAVES) and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.

Boost

“The key is to improve nutrition among children and also go a long way in maintaining enrolment, retention and performance,” reiterates Akeyo.

The exercise will boost another KSh16.4million project launched on March 2015 when Migori offered 150 dairy cows to farmers in a bid to end over-reliance on sugarcane and tobacco farming.

According to the last national population census, Migori has 343,030 cows, out of which only 11,430 are grade cows, a low number for a county whose official development blue print pays more attention to agriculture.

“Migori faces a milk deficiency of 38.8 million litres annually and the huge demand means we don’t have enough milk for children, leave alone family consumption,” Akeyo explains.

Migori First Lady Helen Obado earlier in February also launched a KSh 8 million poultry farming project that will provide women’s groups in 40 wards with incubators to hatch grade chicken.

“Women as mothers will ensure their children are well taken care of. So empowering a woman is like empowering children,” Obado said.

Pamela Atieno with a fruit extractor for the group at God Jope. [Picture: Miller Omega ]

Pamela Atieno with a fruit extractor for the group at God Jope. [Picture: Miller Omega ]

Earlier on last year, Child Fund, a local non-governmental organisation donated dairy cows to 14 needy children from Kuria region to help boost their nutrition and livelihood.

Child Fund director David Mariba who addressed parents at the organisation’s Nyabohanse offices said the drive was a way of offering a means of reducing high malnutrition in the area.

Malnutrition

In God Jope area, Suna East sub-county, Manywa Fruit Farmers Self-Help Group, with 250 members were moved by high malnutrition and limited nutrition prospects for HIV patients on anti-retroviral drugs that they set out to launch a fruit farming drive.

Samson Ochieng, the group’s chairman, says they ensure each homestead has an orchard of specialized diverse and high quality fruit seedling to boost nutrition and income.

Started in 1999, the group banked on lack of fruit farming in the area to roll out the project.

“It was hard to buy fruits and most meals were without fruits. We now have at least a mature avocado and mango tree in a home with a child or a person on ARV which has highly reduced malnutrition,” explains Ochieng.

Stakeholders hope these and more measures will help reverse the worrying trend in the county.

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