Since 2012, ALIMA and its partners have been training mothers and other caregivers across Africa to use a simple, tri-colored bracelet, known as the MUAC, to screen their children for the earliest signs of malnutrition.
Because children often arrive at a health center in the advanced stages of the disease, the idea was, rather than wait each month for a community health worker to come and screen their children, mothers could measure the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) of their child on a regular basis at home. If the child’s arm measures in the red or yellow zones, they should seek medical care. Like a thermometer, this is an easy-to-use tool that helps mothers monitor their child's health.
The problem is, today’s way of admitting children into malnutrition treatment programs is overly complicated. The difference between moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is just 1mm, but the treatment programs are managed by different actors, follow different protocols and use different therapeutic foods. In many places, MAM programs are no longer funded, which means by the time a child is sick enough to qualify for the SAM program, they are already at the point of needing hospitalization and require more rations of therapeutic food.
Now, ALIMA is trying to go one step further and break down the treatment barrier that exists between moderately and severely malnourished children. As part of a study known as MUAC Only (OptiMA) in Burkina Faso, the ALIMA/SOS Médecins/Keoogo consortium continue to train mothers to use the MUAC, but have expanded the MUAC admissions criteria to include all children suffering from MAM and SAM in the same program. This reduces the risk of complications and hospitalization. And, by gradually reducing therapeutic food rations as kids get healthier and improve their MUAC status, the program can treat more children at a similar cost.