Community screening saves young lives

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Senegalese Red Cross is providing assistance to the most vulnerable, families affected by a dramatic fall in agricultural and pastoral production due to the rainfall deficit in 2015 and 2016. © Moustapha Diallo/IFRC

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

A crowd of women carrying children under their arms, parades in the courtyard of the health centre of Dahra, located in the region of Louga, in the north-west of Senegal. The scene seems banal and usually happens in all health facilities in the region.

The only difference, we are in a poor area, which has been severely affected by a nutrition crisis. According to most recent analysis, the rates of acute malnutrition are very high. They exceed the emergency threshold, increasing the risk of infection and disease among children.

Sitting on a cement bench, Rokhaya, a young woman, about twenty-years old, holds Fatima in her lap. Smiling and laughing, it’s hard to believe that Fatima is the same baby that a month ago was malnourished and struggling to live.

“She had diarrhoea, fever and had refused to eat. She was very weak but today, she is much better. I thank God,” says Rokhaya, enthusiastically. “I have followed the Red Cross instructions to carry Fatima to the health centre after she was diagnosed with severe malnutrition.”

Fatima is among the 599 children diagnosed with severe malnutrition during mass screening campaigns conducted by the Senegalese Red Cross volunteers in the region of Louga. Moderate cases are treated directly at the village level, while severe cases of malnutrition are referred to the nearest health centre.

Since she has been receiving treatment and therapeutic food at the health centre, Fatima has gained some weight, bringing joy to her mom and her family.

“Many children are malnourished in Dahra due to poor harvests. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that most of the mothers are unware of their children nutritional needs,” says Tidiane Sane, Food Security focal point at the Senegalese Red Cross.

Malnourished children are prone to infections and diarrhoeal diseases and are not able to attend school. According to World health organization, about 45% of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition.

“Conducting screening at the community level enables us to detect and refer malnourished children at the health centre for early treatment. By acting upstream, we save many lives,” adds Tidiane.

Funded by ECHO with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), activities undertaken by the Senegalese Red Cross have allowed to screen 192,000 children under five years, including 599 severely malnourished children and 2,812 moderately malnourished children. Others activities included, promotional sessions on the importance of breastfeeding, good nutrition practices, hygiene promotion, demonstrations of food preparation and a follow-up of the moderate acutely malnourished children.