Cameroon: Aminatou - Wrested From the Grip of Death

The mother's prompt response five years ago saved the little girl from obvious death from severe acute malnutrition.

Aminatou is full of life today, a well-nourished baby. The family's seventh child is a bulky, smiling baby - a bundle of joy to her widow mother. Aminatou is so active that she hardly remains on the same spot for long. But in 2016, her health situation was gloomy. With the chances of survival literally hanging on a thin thread!

Malnutrition To Blame

The beautiful, light-skinned five-year-old - then, only six months-old - was in agonising condition, thanks to severe acute malnutrition. "She was running high temperature and losing much weight," recalls the mother, Haouwa Abdoulaye, 43, a Central African Republic, CAR refugee.

Haouwa in 2016 received the routine home visit of a Community Health Volunteer, CHW attached to Mandjou Integrated Health Centre in Loum and Djerem Division of East Region. Upon diagnosing the gravity of Aminatou's nutritional condition, the CHW strongly advised that the baby be rushed to the health centre for emergency care.

Prompt Action, Life Saved

"I followed her counsel right through by respecting all appointments. In all, treatment lasted two months. During which I came to the health centre regularly to receive instructions and collect Plumpy nut food supplements for Aminatou," Haouwa remembers. "Aminatou regained health and ever since, has not fallen sick," says the mother with a broad grin.

"I am so grateful for the care and treatment given my baby to recover from severe acute malnutrition. Aminatou is very happy and now plays around with other children. I am ready to use my experience and advise nursing mothers on how to prevent their children from becoming malnourished," Haouwa Abdoulaye offers.

The Fulani cattle farming family fled the civil conflict in neighbouring Central African Republic 10 years ago. Haouwa and children today live in a settlement near Mandjou, on the outskirts of Bertoua, the East Regional capital. She lost her husband in 2017.

Timely UNICEF Support

Aminatou is just one of thousands of children in Cameroon who continue to receive valued care and support from the Ministry of Public Health. With the funding and technical backup of the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF - and other partners - to keep malnutrition in children at bay. Through community mobilisation campaigns, including practicum lessons on child nutrition. Especially the enriched "Five-star pap" and other food supplements. As UNICEF fetes 75 years of selfless service to children across the globe, encouraging testimonies like Haouwa's abound in Cameroon. And in many other countries. Nevertheless, malnutrition in Cameroon remains a major challenge.

Malnutrition, Still A Tall Order!

According to Cecile Patricia Ngo Sak, the Sub-Director for Food and Nutrition in the Department of Health Promotion, Ministry of Public Health, 29 per cent of children under five in Cameroon are stunted. Stunting is an indication of chronic under-nutrition. It is most common in rural areas (36 per cent) and in the North Region (41 per cent). Children in the wealthiest households and those with highly educated mothers are least likely to be stunted, she stresses.

Worrying Statistics

Citing the 2018 Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS or EDSC-V), Ms. Ngo Sak notes that 11 per cent of Cameroonian children are overweight and 4 per cent wasted, with strong regional disparities - all as a result of nutritional challenges. Wasting is an indication of acute malnutrition.

Ngo Sak says only 40 per cent of babies aged six months and under are exclusively breastfed in Cameroon. Six months is the minimum period recommended by health experts to keep a newborn on breast milk before introducing water and food, to safeguard their health. And future development.

According to the CDHS report, 11 per cent of children under age 5 are overweight. Meanwhile, under-nutrition in Cameroon has decreased since 2004, with fewer children stunted, wasted, or underweight. However, overweight has increased markedly, from 6 per cent in 2011 to 11 per cent in 2018, the report warns.

Telltale Causes, Consequences

Malnutrition is caused by inadequate food intake and illness. Inadequate food intake is a consequence of insufficient food supply at the household level, improper feeding practices, or both. Improper feeding practices include both the quality and quantity of foods offered to young children as well as the timing of their introduction.

Experts also note that poor sanitation puts young children at increased risk of illness - in particular, diarrheal disease - which adversely affects their nutritional status. Both inadequate food intake and poor environmental sanitation reflect underlying social and economic conditions. Malnutrition therefore has significant health and economic consequences, the most serious of which is increased risk of death.

Health experts say malnutrition is one of the most important health and welfare problems among infants and young children in Cameroon. It compromises child health, making children susceptible to illness and death. Infectious diseases such as acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, and malaria account for the greatest proportion of infant and under-five mortality.

Other consequences of malnutrition include increased risk of illness and a lower level of cognitive development, which results in lower educational attainment. Later in adult age, the accumulated effects of long-term malnutrition resurface in reduced productivity and increased absenteeism at work. These may affect a person's lifetime earning potential and ability to contribute to their family income and national economy, experts warn. The ugly face of malnutrition also shows up later in life through adverse pregnancy outcomes.

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