Monday, 11 February 2013

Faces Behind the Numbers

Before coming to Chad, in a bid to prepare myself, I read lists and lists of statistics. I read of poor literacy levels, high maternal and under 5's mortality rates, as well as just how high the temperatures could get. Of course, statistics can only tell some of the story and over the past 18 months, I have met just some of the people who are the human faces of these, at times, incomprehensible numbers.

According to WHO (2010), 15% of children in Chad are affected by severe malnutrition, a shocking statistic. But, as I meet just a few of these children, the enormity and tragedy of the problem continues to hit me. Let me introduce you to some of them.

Moussa was admitted to the hospital with skeletal features, too weak to cry. The outlook for him looked bleak and he was at great risk of becoming one of these statistics. He was immediately started on our programme of intensive re- feeding and treatment. I was surprised and overjoyed to see in the following weeks his little body strengthen and eventually he was discharged home with free enriched porridge, plumper and happier.

Ajit was three years old, admitted desperately thin and weak. He was even too weak to drink his milk, so we gave it via a feeding tube. After some time, despite our best efforts he continued to weaken. As a team, having done all we could, we prayed and waited. Amazingly, the next day when I went to check on his progress, he looked stronger and more alert than he had done for days. This however, made it even more upsetting when the next day I went to check on his progress over night to discover that hours earlier, he had died.

This was one of my lowest moments last year. I was devastated. The statistics were no longer dry numbers on a page, they were becoming alive to me and it was painful.

The causes and influences of malnutrition are extremely complex and cannot be solved by one single action. However, one of BMS World Mission's latest relief grants is committed to preventing further needless deaths and has raised an incredible £36,000! See

This year, I will be working alongside Chadian nurses in using this money to provide a comprehensive hunger prevention programme. The programme, as well as continuing to provide inpatient re-feeding and free enriched porridge, will facilitate early identification and intervention for malnourished children. A Malnutrition Clinic will offer support and education, including cooking lessons for the mothers, while their children's progress will be recorded regularly  Blank walls will be decorated with health promoting messages and we hope to shortly offer vaccines.

At this time of year the number of children coming to us with malnutrition is small, but we are making the most of this time preparing for the increased numbers that the upcoming dry, hot months will bring. It is my hope that this year, with early intervention, the number of children dying with acute severe malnutrition here in Chad will be reduced, even if it is just by a few.

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