Turkana children hang on nutrition supplements amid hunger pangs

Turkana children hang on nutrition supplements amid hunger pangs

A side-by-side image shows a cold fireplace and a child taking nutrition supplement in Turkana.

The devastating impact of the recent prolonged drought is still being felt by many families in Turkana County. The dry spell worsened the already existing malnutrition crisis in the country which has been teetering between 15 – 30% over the last seven years.

As a result, children in Turkana have been forced to survive on nothing other than nutrition supplements meant to be therapeutic treatment for malnutrition.

Stakeholders are now concerned that this over reliance is not only unsustainable but also delays the children’s recovery journey.

Turkana County is one of the counties that were listed among those in the red zone during the prolonged drought that hit the country and the entire horn of Africa early this year.

In the quite Loreng’ village, which was one of the most affected areas, a green coverage is now seen on the landscape, a representation of the recovery of a village that was once a dry land tucked underneath a dark cloud of death of plants and animals.

This progressive recovery however might perhaps veil the real struggles of a generation that was almost swallowed in the strong whirlwind of the prolonged drought

Here, we meet Ebekutu, the last born in a family of 5 children. He was born healthy 18 months ago, but after the family lost their livestock during the prolonged drought, they have been struggling to get enough food and clean drinking water. This has caused Ebekutu’s health to deteriorate.

A quick glance at him depicts his small, frail body as he struggles to walk. Ebekutu has not been feeding properly, and next to him is a cold fireplace signaling there was nothing for lunch.

“The last time we ate was last night after going four nights without food,” his Mary Moit mother narrates.

Moit, who has lost two children already, says it has been a constant fight to beat the odds of parenting in such adverse conditions.

For a long time Moit thought that her son was healthy until recently when she visited a local clinic and was told her that the baby was severely malnourished.

One of her children became sickly and succumbed, while another was born prematurely. Today she has only three children, Ekai being her last born.

In Latea ward, several women queue at one of the outreach clinics to pick nutrition supplements for their children, who are recovering from malnutrition.

Ebekutu’s mother is among them. Her son has been on the treatment program for three months and his situation is yet to improve. He is still malnourished.

Ebekutu is among hundreds of children enrolled in the therapeutic feeding program which includes ready to eat therapeutic foods, routine antibiotics and vitamins.

According to Clementine Locham, a Nutritionist at Kakuma Sub-County Hospital, if a child on therapeutic feeds is well taken care of medically and well fed, their recovery journey should take a maximum of three months.

However, because of the current situation that is forcing hundreds of families to reduce the quantity and quality of the food they eat, the recovery journey is taking longer.

A problem that is worsened by the fact that a majority of the children under the program are forced to share the nutrition supplements with their peers at home who have nothing to eat.

“We identified it as a challenge because it made the children to overstay in the program that three months that we expect them to be cured they stayed until they become non-recovered and that’s why during the emergency response there were some of the responses that were put in place to ensure that sharing was not done and one of them was cash transfers,” Locham says.

According to the World Health Organization the severity of malnutrition is only acceptable if the prevalence is less than 5 per cent while a Global Acute Malnutrition value of more than 10 per cent indicates an emergency.

Turkana’s has been teetering between 15 and 30 per cent in the last few years, the county ranks high among the malnutrition hotspots nationally.

“For instance if you take for the case of this area that we are in, this is an outreach site for Loreng’ dispensary we have 39 children who are severely malnourished, 94 children who are moderately malnourished and we have 31 pregnant and lactating mothers who are malnourished so if you can see that number with the total population of this village you can see that that is a high number of malnutrition cases,” Locham explains.

The cases of malnutrition exploded during the prolonged drought which exacerbated the acute food shortage in the area with children bearing the biggest brunt

“Whenever there is drought in this pastrolist community, animals lack pasture and die. Animals don’t have milk for children to drink …there is no household food production. Some of the coping strategies include taking wild fruits that are available at that point for our community here there is one called Edung’ there is Nakalalion.”

The bi-weekly outreach program is supported by non-governmental organizations such as the Welthungerhilfe in collaboration with other partners targeting to bring basic medical services closer to about 10,000 people in Letea Ward alone.

Other areas include Kokorio, Kameyen, Loreng, Loritit, and Lopedur villages some of which are as far as 100 kilometers from the sub-county headquarters in Kakuma.

“We actually supported the beneficiaries with a cash of ash 19,284 per household and the criteria for that household to qualify it is either a severely malnourished child or a mom,” says Samson, a field officer from Welthungerhilfe (WHH).

While such programs have been pivotal in lessening the malnutrition burden in the county. Stakeholders are focusing on investing in more sustainable programs

“We cannot rely on supplementation alone this supplement is medicine it is not food,” Samson notes.

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