Acute malnutrition spikes as economic situation worsens

Nyasha Chingono

WITH tears in her eyes, Maud Maunganidze (27) stares at her 18-month-old baby Tafara’s miniature body, lying haplessly in a clinic cot bed.Weak and emaciated, Tafara is fortunate to be alive after his mother rushed him to Kuwadzana Polyclinic, where officials quickly admitted him in the children’s ward in the wee hours of Saturday last week.

“I thought I was going to lose him. He looked like he had fainted. I did not know what to do,” Maunganidze said.Even as he lay in the bed, covered with baby blankets, you could see the distended abdomen, a sign of severe acute malnutrition, and his thin legs which were too weak to move.

“He used to be a bubbly boy, always smiling and happy but now he just lies there static. He is weak most of the times. What hurts me the most is that I cannot do anything to help my son,” a sobbing Maunganidze said.

Tafara is suffering from acute malnutrition, a condition that has affected nearly 100 000 children under five in Zimbabwe. In addition, Unicef says over one million young children do not have a proper diet.

Upon admission, nurses recommended that Maunganidze’s son be placed on drip feeding. The staff at the clinic revealed Tafara is severely underweight for his age and needs proper feeding.

Maunganidze was left to shoulder the burden of solely taking care of Tafara following his father’s death shortly after his birth. Tafara is her only child.
Unemployed and surviving on casual menial jobs, Maunganidze, has not been feeding adequately to produce enough milk for her baby. At 18 months, Tafara is himself eligible to take solid foods but his mother cannot afford a proper meal, even for an infant.

Surviving on one meal per day, Maunganidze saves the little mealie meal she has for Tafara’s porridge.“I feed him maize meal porridge and sometimes mahewu (sorghum drink) because I have not been producing enough milk for him. The nurses say I also have to be placed on a feeding programme so that I can produce enough milk. He is always crying because of hunger and that is heart-breaking,” Maunganidze said.

But in recent weeks, the 18-month-old baby has been refusing to eat the porridge. He has also developed thrash, nurses say.Maunganidze has been battling to survive the worsening economic conditions where food prices are beyond the reach of millions of Zimbabweans.

The meagre income she makes from doing laundry for people in her neighbourhood is not enough to feed her son.After refusing to eat porridge, Tafara has been surviving on sorghum drink (mahewu). He lacks iron, a critical element in child growth, nurses reveal.

“These days we record such cases where mothers cannot provide enough food for their babies. Even though some mothers supplement their diet with porridge, it is not advisable because babies need milk,” a nurse on duty said.“Most babies like Tafara need supplements like Vitamin A during treatment.”
Tafara’s case mirrors the story of many other impoverished children who suffer from malnutrition.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children with severe acute malnutrition should receive the daily recommended nutrient intake of 5000 IU vitamin A daily as part of a multi-micronutrient formulation.

Across Tafara’s bed is another infant, two-year-old Munopa Mangezi.Her parched skin hangs on her tiny body and whitish eyes are evidence that Munopa is suffering from severe undernourishment.

Munopa’s has been admitted for the past week where she has undergone an intensive feeding programme. Her mother Angeline Mangezi (25), also unemployed, has been failing to buy sufficient food that provides enough nutrients for her.

Nurses at the polyclinic discovered Munopa’s malnutrition when Mangezi visited the clinic for routine baby medical check-ups.“Before I lost my job, I could buy my child enough cereals and milk, but life has been very difficult ever since. I give her porridge only and sometimes potatoes when I have money. Her father does not go to work and his part-time jobs don’t give us much,” Mangezi told the Zimbabwe Independent.

She is visibly elated and smiled heartily as the nurses told her that Munopa’s is responding well to treatment.However, it could take another month for Munopa to fully recover, nurses say.

“I am glad we managed to diagnose Munopa’s situation early. Many children die because their cases are not detected early enough,” a nurse told the Independent.
According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) nearly one in three children under five are suffering from malnutrition, while 93% of children between six months and two years of age are not consuming the minimum acceptable diet, this means across the country about 34 000 children (or 3,6% of total children) are critically suffering from acute malnutrition.

From Unicef-supported assessments, Harare is expected to record more cases of malnutrition.“Unicef is very concerned about cases of severe malnutrition because, if they are not treated, children are highly vulnerable to disease and death,” a senior Unicef official said in a recent interview with the Zimbabwe Independent.

The UN agency is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to provide life-saving and preventative treatment to nearly 650 000 children and women who are at risk of malnutrition through the supply of therapeutic food.

Zimbabwe is experiencing a severe food crisis, with 7,7 million people facing hunger this year, according to the World Food Programme.About 2,2 million people in urban areas will be food insecure this year.

Children from disadvantaged families are experiencing food shortages, with humanitarian organisations recording cases of children fainting at school.

A recent survey by the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency shows that more than 20% of the children in urban areas live in abject poverty. According to the survey, it is because their guardians and parents are failing to provide enough food for physical development.

The economic hardships punctuated by skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, company closures and job losses have exacerbated the food crisis.