He laid weak with his eyes closed in his mother’s arms. He had been ill for several months now. His mother, Sylvia was weary of his crying day and night and traumatized by the fact that even when her son felt better and desired to play, no kid in their neighborhood wanted to play with him because their parents did not want any form of association between her son and their children. It was depressing. She had tried everything within her power to bring back her son to good health to no avail and now she was no longer sure her son will make it. At 18 and single, Sylvia already had two kids; Ngwa Blaise and his 2-year-old younger sister. Her single status exposed her to further stigmatization from neighbors, especially from the female folk. She breathed deeply as she asked herself for how long she could withstand the situation. Her patience was almost overstretched.
Ngwa Blaise’s mother is a small subsistence farmer from Nebebah, a village in Menchum Division in the Bafut Health Area, some 40km from Bamenda. Access to health care in this small village is very difficult, due to bad roads that are a death trap to vehicles and motorbikes alike. Also, the nearest hospital is situated at a far distance resulting to most community women having no other option than home delivery, with untrained traditional birth attendants using crude methods that are detrimental to their health and that of their children during the process. It is from this backdrop that one can understand the very high rate of infectious diseases in the village. Blaise’s mother gave birth to her two children under these dehumanizing conditions. As a teenage mother living in abject poverty, she also lacked the knowledge necessary for good child care and healthy living. With the meager proceeds from her farm, she was unable to meet the nutrition needs of her offspring. Under such poor living conditions, Blaise started developing symptoms of malnutrition. This affected his growth rate and he acquired a mobility impairment at four. This new twist forced him into a secluded lifestyle, as his mother had to leave him alone all day long in a dark corner of the house to attend to other demands. Blaise was left unable to roam around like other children his age, rummaging for what to satisfy their ever-hungry stomachs.
It was a bright Friday afternoon; the nutrition focal person and community volunteers were having an outreach in Mundum I village. After sensitizing the population on malnutrition, Blaise’s case was brought to their attention. Immediately they did a quick screen on the boy and it revealed that he weighed 8kg and his Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) was 10cm, clear indicators of severe acute malnutrition. Blaise was immediately put on treatment with a huge improvement a few weeks later. His weight increased to 18kg and MUAC – 14cm. Even though he was yet stable on his feet, his mother was very happy and excited to see how fast her son had improved within a short time. She expressed the need for financial and material support to help her continue to provide healthy meals and medications to her son as she couldn’t afford to take care of him on her own sustainably.
After going round the village, the team uncovered ten more cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition. This helped them tailor their sensitization messages appropriately. Thus, community members were drilled on the importance of good and balanced meals for their families and its essential role for the wellbeing of children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
By Vivian Maku