Each year, Natacha, a single mother in Burkina Faso, struggles to get her children safely through the precarious time between harvests when food is scarce and young children are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition.
Malnutrition contributes to the death of well over 2.5 million children under the age of five each year. Ready-to-use foods have been used for some time to save the lives of dangerously malnourished children. Now we know that providing children who are at risk with supplemental foods, that meet their nutritional needs, will spare them from irreversible consequences on their growth and development and prevent them from falling into the life-threatening severe form of malnutrition.
Alexi was malnourished before reaching his first birthday. He lives with his mother Natacha and his two siblings in a small village in northern Burkina Faso. Natacha grows millet for the family. But the grain she harvests lasts them only four months and they go hungry the rest of the year. The markets are full, but she cannot afford to buy the food she wants.
“Eating millet porridge every day is the equivalent of living off bread and water,” MSF nutrition advisor Susan Shepherd said.
Natacha was given a supply of packets of peanut paste containing milk powder, sugar and oil, and enriched with vitamins and essential nutrients as treatment. This ready to-use food needs no refrigeration or preparation, and can be fed to children by their parents at home. Alexi responded well to the treatment: he gained weight steadily, and after just a few weeks was out of danger.
Ready-to-use therapeutic foods were developed to treat children already at a dangerous stage of malnutrition. But if his mother, Natacha, had been able to get hold of what are called supplemental foods, that contain sufficient nutrients for a growing child, then Alexi might never have fallen ill through acute malnutrition in the first place. His life and many other children that live in similar contexts of humanitarian crises could be protected this way. But today, the lack of funds means the foods needed to address malnutrition are all too often rationed to the severest cases.
“5 Lives” tells the stories of people who MSF works with every day, people whose lives often hinge on whether or not they can gain access to a simple medical intervention. These are situations that could be avoided with proper and sustainable funding and investment in public health. That’s why MSF supports calls to permanently allocate a small portion of a new financial transaction tax (FTT), which has been proposed by some governments, to support global health needs. A regular stream of funding would help provide some of the resources needed to address unchecked health crises around the world.
Photo: © Jessica Dimmock/VII Network, Burkina Faso