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1003-car-shauensteinswan-2016-_78b4745-WebRes Samuel Hauenstein Swan

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Central African Republic

Fighting against malnutrition and disease

The treatment unit run by Action Against Hunger is crowded with children suffering from the most severe and deadly form of malnutrition; here children are too sick to play, too weak to cry.

About 700 deaths per year are related to malnutrition in the Central African Republic. Nutrition units are places of hope. Last year, 80% of the children referred to the centres managed by the NGO recovered and were able to return home. Community treatment is effective when communities are equipped with the right products, such as therapeutic foods, and reach out to children living in the most marginalised areas in the midst of conflict. But when the disease is extremely serious and complicated by an infection, hospital treatment under the supervision of doctors and nurses is the only option.

Clémence is two years old and weighs only 5.5 kilos. She was admitted to the intensive nutrition unit of the paediatric hospital in Bangui, the capital city.

A few weeks ago, Clémence was a strong and joyful child playing in the streets near her home. Everything changed when she got malaria and lost her appetite fighting fever. Weakened by the disease, she soon became sick with diarrhoea and quickly lost weight, to the point where her extremely concerned parents took her to the hospital, where they learned that their child was suffering from severe, life-threatening malnutrition. .

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For Anita, feeding her daughter was not easy, because feeding a sick child is a very slow and delicate process, and Clémence had difficulty swallowing. Anita was optimistic that her daughter would get better and get her appetite back so she could return home. Encouraging signs showed that the child was better. Yet little Clémence died a few days later.

Her mother had done everything to save her daughter’s life, but in a country in conflict, with high rates of illness, it was impossible for parents to build the structure to cover basic needs for living: food and water, and access to health care in time. Like many mothers around the world, Anita could not prevent her baby from experiencing regular episodes of malaria that have weakened her body and led to under nutrition.

The Central African Republic has experienced high levels of violence destroying its health system, so that only a few centres are accessible. Only a few health workers know how to detect the first signs of malnutrition and get treatment. Action Against Hunger works with communities, donors and doctors to detect children long before they are severely malnourished, and spreads the work and treatment in communities so that malnourished children have the best chance of getting better.

Despite all our efforts and much recent progress, too many children do not survive malnutrition. The story of Anita and Clémence is a reminder of this injustice, and reaffirms the need to continue the battle around the world, day after day.

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