When 13-month old Daniel Kuzam fell very ill and developed a gruesome appearance and an abnormal cry, his family and community members begun to take steps to eliminate him because they thought he was a dwarf.
It is customary among the Kassena Nankana’s to get rid of babies with unexplained abnormalities due to the age old belief that such babies are evil spirits who try to enter the human population by camouflaging as human beings.
However, Daniel’s life was saved when his plight was brought to the attention of the Navorongo Nutrition Centre, established by Unicef, to provide food therapy to malnourished and undernourished children through the use of plumpy nuts and other nutritious foods.
Unicef had also received funding from the European Commission Directorate for Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) to meet the urgent needs of victims of last year’s floods with a number of interventions including the provision of treated bed nets, anti malarial drugs, the provision of ceramic filters and the disinfection and rehabilitation of boreholes.
Describing Daniels condition at the time when he was admitted at the centre in November last year,, Mr. Rauf Abu Amin, District Nutrition Officer, said he exhibited all the typical signs of severe malnutrition which included a wrinkled skin with some of it peeling off, his ribs could be seen through the rib cage, his hair was falling off his scarp, he was emaciated and dehydrated and weighed only 5 kilograms.
Mr. Amin said “steeped in superstition and with no medical knowledge, the community failed to read Daniel’s tell-tale signs of severe malnutrition. Worse still, his wrinkled face had aged making him to look like a little old man, and this coupled with his unnatural cry which was more like that of a diseased fowl rather than that of a baby, whipped up the superstitious belief that Daniel was a dwarf”.
Daniel, who was born to 28 year old Kabuga Kuzam and her husband at Nawuri in the Kassena Nankana district of the Upper East region was the third child of his parents and appeared to be normal at birth. However, shortly after the floods that engulfed some parts of the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions last year, Daniel’s health deteriorated while his physical appearance underwent such a terrible change that people begun to question whether he was a human being.
Madam Kuzam, who herself was severely malnourished, explained to medical staff that Daniel’s illness started in October last year, only a month before he was brought to the medical centre but medical tests indicated that Daniel had been malnourished for quite some time. Prodded on by medical staff, she disclosed that as a norm, her family ate only twice a day; a meal was prepared every evening and whatever was left over was eaten for breakfast. Despite the fact that Daniel as only a baby, no special meals were prepared for him and he was fed on adult food in addition to whatever breast milk that his mother could provide which was inadequate because she herself was malnourished.
Madam Kuzam said because her two older sons had survived under similar circumstances no one saw the link between Daniels condition and poor nutrition as a result of a shortfall in their harvest brought on by the floods that washed away their crops. This meant the family had to survive on less food than previous years.
Mr Amin said due to the seriousness of Daniels condition, most people, including some medical doctors who saw him, did not believe he would recover. But Amin who was accustomed with the wonders of nutrition therapy, especially plumpy nuts, which were imported into the country by Unicef to treat severe malnutrition would not give in. “After undergoing food therapy for just one week, most of Daniels symptoms disappeared and after five weeks, he was healthy and normal”, he said.
Though the establishment of Nutrition Centres has long been one of the strategies adopted by Unicef in deprived communities in Ghana to provide food to malnourished children to promote their survival and development, their presence became more crucial in the wake of the floods which left already deprived communities poorer and without adequate food. Lactating mothers and children were the worst hit.
Statistics indicate that, out of the 75,000 people who were most affected by the floods, 20,000 were made up of children under five years and lactating mothers.
Other children who have benefited from the centre in the wake of the floods include Helena Alina, aged two years and five months. She was diagnosed with Kwashiorkor, a disease that strikes children who lack protein and has been receiving food therapy for the last five months
“Helena had a distended stomach, could not walk well and was very dull. She also refused to eat, was very hostile and used to bite the nurses who first handled her” 23 year old Rebecca Azumah, mother of Helena disclosed. .
“But after five months of treatment, my daughter is now strong and active, her stomach has dwindled in size and she is neither hostile nor bites the nurses.”, Mrs. Azumah said happily.
Apart from stepping up activities at the Nutrition Centres to cater for undernourished children, another intervention Unicef adopted in the wake of the floods was the distribution of mosquito nets to curb the upsurge of malaria. Hypolite Yaleduor, District Disease Control officer, said 2,415 bednets were received for flood victims in the Kassena Nankana District. Consequently, the region did not experience a significant increase in reported cases of malaria.
Madam Bibiana Anati, Senior Nursing Officer in charge of Public Health supported his assertion. She said reported malaria cases for children aged one to six years dropped from 490 cases in 2006 to 87 cases in 2007 in spite of the floods.
The District Director of Health Services, Mrs Rufina Asuru, was certain that the interventions adopted by Unicef to curb malaria were yielding results but the results are not visible because of the nature of health care delivery.
“In our setting, children are always treated for malaria hence there is an over diagnoses of malaria. Anybody who comes with fever and headache we want to treat malaria first before anything. But if we could confirm every malaria case, it would go down.”, Mrs Asuru said.

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