Preventing and treating moderate acute malnutrition in refugee mothers and children in Bangladesh

Preventing and treating moderate acute malnutrition in refugee mothers and children in Bangladesh
Monira, 18, worries about her two young children, Kaiser, age 3, and seven-month-old Jasmina. This teenage mother is doing everything she can, but it’s difficult to keep her children healthy as they grow up in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.  

Monira’s children are among 485,000 living in the squalid, overcrowded camps where outbreaks of respiratory infections, diphtheria and acute jaundice syndrome are already common. During the current monsoon season, flooding and overflowing latrines are increasing the spread of communicable and water-borne diseases. 

Child malnutrition here is also a critical problem. Many refugee children who arrived in the camps last year already suffered from malnutrition caused by poor long-term diets in Myanmar, made worse by the lack of food on their long treks to Bangladesh.

World Vision has just launched a life-saving programme that will prevent and manage moderate acute malnutrition in children age 6 months to 5 years and support malnourished pregnant and lactating mothers. It will run daily from early July until end of December in three densely-populated refugee camps, conducted in partnership with the World Food Programme.

Some 11,200 children will receive monthly rations of Super Cereal, a high-energy supplementary food to help prevent malnutrition. An estimated 3,595 pregnant and lactating women will also receive the monthly rations of Super Cereal, as well as vegetable oil. An additional 5,100 children who are assessed as having moderate acute malnutrition will be given biweekly rations of food and follow-up treatment, as well as 1,061 mothers.

Monira and her children were at the front of the line when the first nutrition centre near her home in Camp 10.

Monira and her daughter Jasmina during the nutrition status screen being done by a World Vision volunteer. 

“A volunteer from World Vision told me about the programme and so I came today,” says Monira.

On average, 150 mothers and children are seen each day by trained World Vision nutrition staff members. They assessed Kaiser and Jasmina for malnutrition by measuring their middle upper arm circumferences, and weighing and measuring them. Monira is relieved that Jasmina is not malnourished according to the screening results, but she is just on the edge. She will be included in the supplementary feeding programme and will be regularly assessed to prevent malnutrition and make sure she keeps growing well.

Jasmina’s arm circumference being measured.

Emary says training mothers is key to improving child nutrition long-term. “These women have had very few opportunities to learn about good child care and feeding practices,” she says. “The programme is training them so that they can care for their children better.”

All the mothers participate in cooking demonstrations on how to prepare the supplementary cereal. Getting the consistency of the porridge mixture right is important for children’s digestion.

“I am happy to receive the sugee (cereal). I was only feeding my children rice, but now I will give them this cereal. I want them to be healthier and stronger,” says Monira.

Monira’s neighbour, Jorina, agrees. She brought three-month-old Ayez to the centre’s opening day. “I liked the programme very much today. The cooking demonstration was simple and informative,” she says. “I am happy that I have nutritious food for myself and my son.”

The programme will distribute 812 MT of food in total and is supported by World Vision offices in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, Taiwan and the UK.