The Nutrition Unit is a wonderful place! It is a place of education as well as care, a place of singing as well as feeding. But is it essential, as almost half of all children in Malawi are chronically malnourished.
If a child arrives weakened with Malawia, the fundamental cause will often be malnourishment. Our medical staff will then refer them to the Nutrition Unit. This is a level of care not offered at most hospitals in Malawi, trying to get to the root of the problem and offer follow up care.
We need to fund both feeding programmes and health care supplements. We are also hoping to increase the follow-up procedures once children are discharged, in order to ensure their ongoing treatment and support.
This requires money for food and also transport to get nurses to remote areas, and support for the development of schemes to do this are much needed.
Eleanor Bardsley, an English nurse, worked as a volunteer at St. Andrew’s Clinic. She took responsibility for organising the Under-5 feeding programme, and gave us her impressions.
“ Life is cheap in Africa’ people say, but experience screams otherwise: life is dear, too dear for many.
“The 3 year old was too weak to stand; her mother had carried her to the Clinic. No particular disease was evident, so my mind switched from its pre-occupation with disease and treatment to the child again. Something about her did not fit: the child’s size did not fit her age.
“But it was the reply to the next question that left me dumb: ‘Yes, she had a good appetite; she ate all of her one meal a day’.
“There it was, so obvious, so simple it was stupid. The child was starving. That was the start of the famine.
“When starvation stares at you through dull eyes, without any rage but with passive resignation, any philosophising over long-term solutions and the inappropriateness of hand-outs goes out of the window. Here was a basic need which could be easily met. That was the start of the feeding programme.
“The Clinic agreed to support a feeding programme for children aged 5 and under with one guardian. We developed from preparing two maize and soya bean porridge meals a day, to introducing high energy milk. We have now refined our programme to a phased feeding system which allows us to give a feed type and quantity specific to each child’s condition upon registration and throughout their stay with us.
“The high milk and egg content of the phased programme is expensive, but we have noticed a huge difference with it. Children with severe ‘kwashiorkor’ are now surviving; the recovery and weight gain are quicker.
“I have heard someone say that the worst thing about poverty is the effect it has on the mind. Whilst seeing a pathetically ill child improve beyond recognition is a joy, it is the more subtle changes I’ve seen that give me more personal satisfaction and hope for these children and their families.
What started as a hand-out has grown into so much more. We don’t just give food, we give education on nutrition, basic hygiene, child care and family planning. We have provided training for Clinic staff and have employed their skills. We have enabled people to raise their standards and expectations.
“Life in Africa is not cheap; it is dear, emotionally and financially on those in grinding poverty. But the cost to us of alleviating this is embarrassingly small. It costs us £7 a week for each registered child.
“We are not treating the causes of poverty, but we are improving the outlook for some.”