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ACTION CONTRE LA FAIM - CAMEROUN © Christophe Da Silva pour Action contre la Faim


Health & nutrition

How we screen, treat and prevent undernutrition

To talk about hunger means talk about more than 820 million people who suffer from it. For us, hunger is a disease called undernutrition. In our countries of intervention, hunger goes far beyond the feeling of wanting and even needing to eat. This disease appears in conflict zones, where women, men and children have to survive for several days without eating or do not have access to a sufficient variety of food. It also appears after natural disasters, when access to water is limited or even non-existent, access to work and health as well.



Globally, 49.5 million children under five years of age are undernourished, two-thirds of them live in Asia.

Hunger is also a consequence of climate change, the main victims are small producers who have to face floods, droughts and other climatic hazards. Hunger can be screened, treated and prevented. Among our activities we carry out many programs in Nutrition and Health.


Screening for undernutrition


The first signs and symptoms of hunger can be detected with simple tools. The MUAC wristband can be used to measure the patient’s arm circumference. Through colour coding and measurements, it indicates a good state of health in green, when the patient is at risk of undernourishment the colour orange appears and finally the most serious cases are indicated by the colour red. Red colour indicates the patient is in a critical state most often children, whose arms circumferences are extremely thin. Each measurement of the patient’s arm circumference is compared with its height and weight. For children, this allows us to determine whether they are stunted or if they have the right weight for their age and height, and their state of undernutrition.

Then the patient must be measured, a complicated step for children. We lay them down on a wooden structure to measure them. To ensure accuracy, the child’s head and feet must be kept straight, this part of the examination tends to frighten the little ones, so it has to be as fast as possible. The patient is then weighed to complete the various measurements and determine its condition.

Patients will also be examined if they already show signs of undernourishment, in order to determine whether the case is serious and whether there are other complications such as oedema. It is important to detect symptoms of undernutrition in time. To make sure that the patient does not have any oedema, we simply take the patient’s hands or feet with light pressure. If swelling is present, the skin will take longer to return to its normal colour after the “pressure” effect.

ACTION CONTRE LA FAIM - CAMEROUN Cristophe Da Silva pour Action contre la Faim Cameroun
ACTION CONTRE LA FAIM - CAMEROUN Dans le Centre de Sante de Mada Kolkoch, Marie Ndarana est adjointe au chef de sante, elle est en charge de la prise en charge des enfants et des femmes enceintes et/ou allaitantes. Elle évoque aussi les barrières d’accès aux soins tant du côté des maris que des pratiques traditionnelles
ACTION CONTRE LA FAIM - CAMEROUN Dans le Centre de Sante de Mada Kolkoch, Marie Ndarana est adjointe au chef de sante, elle est en charge de la prise en charge des enfants et des femmes enceintes et/ou allaitantes. Elle évoque aussi les barrières d’accès aux soins tant du côté des maris que des pratiques traditionnelles

Our priority is to fight hunger and for that we must provide access to health care to as many people as we can. Therefore, we built health centres locally. We train many volunteers, parents and health staff on the spot to detect undernutrition in order to treat it as soon as the first signs appear, before the patient’s condition become too critical. If necessary, patients will be redirected to our health and stabilization centres so that they can have access to further follow-up and the family can receive psychological support.


Treating undernutrition


Our health centres welcome children and breastfeeding mothers for screening and treat accompany them in this process. Access to health care is essential to reduce the spread of a disease, especially in isolated areas.

Once the patients, and especially the children, have arrived, we carry out an appetite test which allows us to check whether the child still feel hungry and whether he or she can ingest and digest food.

Depending on the results, patients will then be referred to two types of centres. The first is aimed at treating patients suffering from moderate undernutrition, when condition is not yet severe and can be treated from the patients’ homes. Parents leave with doses of ready-to-use therapeutic food and treat their child at home before returning for consultation and follow-up a few weeks later.

The second type of centre is for patients suffering from the most severe form of the disease, severe acute undernutrition, are treated and require internment. This situation can be complicated for the family when parents work and are far from the centre or when they have to take care for the rest of the family. In the most severe cases and when the children can no longer feed themselves, we give them the nutriments they need through a feeding tube. Food is given through a small oral feeding tube while the child regains strength to eat more consistent food.

A medical interview and psychological support are provided in both centres to provide the best possible support to patients.

Maternal and child undernutrition contributes to 45% of children under-five deaths.


Preventing undernutrition


We are not fighting undernutrition alone. We train women, men, community members, mothers, fathers and health workers in the countries where we work. Advocacy is a key step in the fight against hunger and undernutrition. It involves training volunteers as well as the implementation of workshops with communities and parents.

The training of volunteers provides access to health care even in isolated areas. Volunteers learn how to screen for the disease and recognize early signs of illness. Volunteers examine patients by looking for oedema, measuring and weighing patients.

Thanks to them, more and more people have access to health. Thanks to our volunteers we can detect malnutrition and undernutrition wherever it is! Their role is also to change mentalities in certain isolated areas and to change habits in order to adopt good practices. We rely on them a lot, and in some communities, it is necessary to have someone the community trusts, who speaks the language and knows the culture. Parents are more confident and are more likely to let volunteers they know screen their child. When volunteers identify a child, whose case is more serious and requires further follow-up, they redirect the child to our health centres.


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