Photo: Cindy Scott, Mental Health Officer, Ethiopia © MSF
Bringing Malnourished Children Back to Life
Hiloweyn Refugee Camp, Ethiopia
“Every day more malnourished children were admitted to our feeding program. They arrived at Hiloweyn with exhausted families who had walked for days, even weeks, from Somalia with little food or water. In an emergency situation like this, mental healthcare is as critical as nutrition support.
Research shows the brain of a severely malnourished baby really stops working except to keep the heart and lungs going. Yet children given psychosocial stimulation while they are receiving medical treatment actually recover more quickly and gain weight faster. Doctors Without Borders recognizes this.
I remember one little boy, perhaps two or three years old. He was so weak he couldn’t even cry—he would just scrunch his face. For about two weeks, we joined his mother in playing, singing, and talking with the boy. She was worried her tiny son could not hear her because he was so sick. One day she held a red balloon in front of her child and his little hand reached out and grabbed it. We were all shocked and he just smiled. ‘I haven’t seen my baby smile in months,’ she said. Then all the mothers began laughing because this one little baby smiled. It was a sign that his brain was working again.
Donor support means we can really go to the forgotten places in the world, where people think they are forgotten and no one is listening—but Doctors Without Borders is there.”
Doctors Without Borders has handed over its project in Hiloweyn camp, one of the five refugee camps near the border between Ethiopia and Somalia, to ARRA, an Ethiopian refugee agency.