As famine continues to plague parts of Somalia, more than 3,000 malnourished children and lactating mothers are making their way each week to a therapeutic feeding program in Mogadishu that is supported in part by Oxfam. Already 56,000 people have received care this year at one of the program’s 11 sites across the battered city. All told, the program has admitted more than 136,000 children and mothers since its start in 2009.
One of those children is Mohamed, who was less than a year old and terribly thin when his mother brought him to the center.
"I came here after my son, Mohamed, became very sick about two months ago," said Fadumo, a 30-year-old mother of five in Mogadishu. He had been suffering from severe diarrhea, and though it had stopped, it had sapped him of weight and energy.
Crippling drought in Somalia has made clean water increasingly scarce and has led to a spike in children with severe diarrhea and malnutrition being admitted to local hospitals. Coupled with food shortages and limited healthcare, the consequences have become heartbreaking for families: one of every six children in Somalia dies before reaching the age of 5.
Working with a Somali organization—SAACID—and in partnership with other agencies, Oxfam started the community care program in September 2009, to help address some of these critical needs in Mogadishu. The program aims to treat acutely malnourished children, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers, and to ensure that they do not fall back into nutritional crisis.
Children with the most severe malnourishment are provided with at least two months of care in an out-patient program where they receive therapeutic food. Following that, children continue for an additional two months in a supplementary feeding program to ensure they don’t slip back into the danger zone.
For children with less severe cases, the program offers them supplementary feeding and provides basic health care, along with measles vaccinations on a case-by-case basis.
The community-based program includes 240 outreach workers and 40 team leaders who steer families to the treatment sites as well as follow up with cases and deliver key health messages across the city on a daily basis.
It was one of the outreach workers who first recognized the severity of Mohamed’s condition—and told Fadumo about the therapeutic care program.
“When he was admitted to the program he was very thin and I thought that he would never return to his standard weight because he had stopped eating and drinking,” said Fadumo, adding that at two months he stopped breastfeeding. “Since that time, he was sick and he never had good health for even one day.”
But all of that changed when Mohamed started treatment at the center.
“After he began taking the special biscuits, he almost immediately began to eat and drink water and milk again,” Fadumo said. Until she learned about the program, Fadumo had been unable to seek treatment for her son because her family had no money.
“My husband is currently unemployed,” she said. “Our life now depends on what my husband’s brothers give us. In fact, it is not enough for us, but it is our only support now.”
But a bright spot is Mohamed’s progress.
Previously thin and listless, Mohamed began putting on weight and becoming more active. His smile even came back.
“This health center is clearly providing life-saving care, and there is strong support in our neighborhood for it,” Fadumo said. “We hope SAACID can continue supporting the sick, malnourished children.”