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Ethiopia: treating children for malnutrition in the pastoralist community of Fiq

24 Mar 2015

Two-year-old Hawsak lives in one of the small bush houses in Fiq woreda, in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Before being admitted to a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, she was emaciated and had been suffered diarrhoea and vomiting for four weeks. Her grandmother, Ansha, explained that the family felt Hawsak’s problem had been caused by demons, and that they had taken her to a traditional healer to determine how to pacify the offended gods.

The traditional healers determined that the illness had been caused by an ‘evil eye’ and to rid the child of the demons, Hawsak’s family had to slaughter a three week-old camel, skin it, and cover the child with the camel’s stomach. The child also had to inhale the smoke of ubuore leaves to make her sweat and discharge phlegm to exorcise the demons from her body.

Unfortunately, days went by without Hawsak’s condition improving. Numerous subsequent trips to the traditional healers proved futile, but her family’s hope remained undiminished with every prescribed ‘treatment.’ Finally, Ansha decided to look for another solution to keep her grandchild alive, and a hospital was all she could think of. “Two weeks earlier, there was talk around the village of a humanitarian organisation of doctors that provided free health services. So I decided to take my Hawsak there to see if they could help her,” she explained.

On arrival at the hospital, Hawsak was admitted immediately. She was suffering from severe acute malnutrition with complications. Meeting the little girl in the hospital’s stabilisation centre, four days after her admission, she still looked tired, but her eyes were slowly starting to sparkle with life. Ibrahim Mohammed, the Médecins Sans Frontières nurse at the stabilisation centre confirmed to us that Hawsak was in a much better condition than when she was first admitted. 

“Hawsak is now recovering well. She is taking milk and food. When I return to my community I will pass on the message to everyone. I will tell them that it is not the ‘evil eye’. There are a lot of children who are in a similar health condition and I will help bring them here.”

Since October 2014, Médecins Sans Frontières has been involved in strengthening the provision of secondary healthcare and nutrition activities at Fiq hospital in the Nogob zone of the Somali Regional State. Additionally, Médecins Sans Frontières’ support at the hospital includes the provision of services in the emergency and operation rooms, reproductive healthcare and medical support at the in- and out-patient departments for children under five years of age. “Malnutrition is a common problem among the Somali pastoralists. However, local beliefs regarding the causes of the problem pose serious challenges to health organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières attempting to address the disease from a medical perspective,” says Ibrahim. This is why, through its outreach programme, Médecins Sans Frontières provides health education to strengthen social mobilisation in the community.

A relieved Ansha remarked: “Hawsak is now recovering well. She is taking milk and food. When I return to my community I will pass on the message to everyone. I will tell them that it is not the ‘evil eye’. There are a lot of children who are in a similar health condition and I will help bring them here.” Médecins Sans Frontières started offering healthcare services at the Fiq hospital, with the overall objective of reducing morbidity and mortality rates in the vulnerable population of Nogob zone, mainly by providing medical and nutritional assistance. The direct beneficiaries are the population of Fiq woreda, an estimated 150,000 people. The general population of Nogob zone (436,345 people), also benefits from the services offered at Fiq hospital.

 

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