Life-saving nutrition programme saves families in Madagascar

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Fourteen-month-old Vole Mariah laughs as she toddles around the scales in her local basic health centre, waiting to be weighed.

Only two months ago she was severely malnourished and suffering from diarrhea, vomiting and oedema, leaving her unable to move or communicate.

Her family's regular food supplies - beans, maize, sweet potato and melons grown on land close to the house - have suffered due to a lack of rain in the Androy region in southern Madagascar.

Vole's father also lost his job at a local sisal plantation, making food critically scarce.

Her mother, Vaha Noeline, says: "We all started getting thinner, including our three children, even though we gave them most of the food.

"Vole Mariah in particular became very thin and very sick. I didn't have enough food myself, so I couldn't provide enough milk.

"I was really scared, so I carried her for an hour to the basic health centre in the nearest town, Amboasary."

"The doctor told me that she was badly malnourished and needed to go to the hospital immediately for treatment. My friends who came with me to the health centre told me it was no use, and that Vole was so sick that she would die.

"They told me to bring her home to die in the house, but the doctor reassured me that they could try to save her."

Once admitted to the malnutrition ward of the local hospital, Vole Mariah received a special therapeutic milk formula and treatment for diarrhea and vomiting, as part of a DFID-funded nutrition programme run by UNICEF.

After a few days, she started to show signs of improvement.

Vaha Noeline says, "After a week, she was moving in the bed. A few days after that, she was crawling around and laughing.

"She had put on weight and was much healthier. I was so happy to have my baby back."

Vaha Noeline was also given a ration of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) packets to give to her daughter several times a day.

The mixture of ground peanuts and oil, fortified with vitamins, minerals, milk powder and sugar, requires no preparation and is easy to use.

Now, once a week, Vole Mariah's weight-for-height measurement is taken at the centre and she receives an RUTF dose.

After just seven weeks, Vole Mariah reached the recommended weight for a 14-month-old child and was able to stop the malnutrition programme.

Sitting in her family's small wooden and corrugated iron house, with Vole Mariah sleeping in her arms, Vaha Noeline is grateful for the help her daughter received.

"The food ration saved our family from collapse.

"Without it, Vole Mariah, and possibly my other children, would not be here. I do not want to think about what the situation could have been without the support we received."

Key facts and stats

At the end of 2008, 31 communes of three southern regions of Madagascar were food insecure as a result of scarce and sporadic rainfall.

As a direct result of DFID's 2009 support to UNICEF's Nutrition Programme, almost 9,000 acutely malnourished children were identified and treated in the three drought-affected regions of southern Madagascar. In addition to this treatment, a balanced food ration of oil, maize and pulses - enough to feed five people for two months - was provided to their families.

In Madagascar, an estimated 81,000 children per year - 222 children per day - die of preventable diseases like diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia before reaching their fifth birthday.