How UK aid is helping us combat child malnutrition in the world’s hungriest country

Matron Emielliene Mapouka (39) with six-month-old Rosalia and mum Hortense Mbolidere. Photo: Chris de Bode/Panos for Concern, CAR
Matron Emielliene Mapouka (39) with six-month-old Rosalia and her mum Hortense Mbolidere at Bekadili Health Clinic, which Concern supports by providing staff training, stocks of medicines, emergency therapeutic and supplementary food, and equipment. Photo: Chris de Bode/Panos for Concern, CAR

Concern has launched a new programme that will transform the lives of those living in the world’s hungriest country, the Central African Republic (CAR). Our ultimate objective is to reduce the number of deaths of pregnant women and children under five. But how are we going about achieving this? And what part is the UK government playing?

What’s the programme – and where does UK aid come in?

Last year we launched our Free from Hunger appeal to help women and children in some of the world’s poorest countries get the food they need to survive.

Thanks to our incredible supporters, we raised a total of £1.84 million, including £858,961 of match funding from the UK government as part of its Aid Match scheme. This matched funding is supporting an innovative new programme to improve the health and nutrition of pregnant women, new mothers and children under five in the Central African Republic (CAR) - ensuring they can access the food, water, nutrition and healthcare they need to recover from malnourishment and stay strong and healthy in the long term.

Why is this programme necessary?

The Central African Republic (CAR) is officially the world’s hungriest country. Since 2012, conflict has affected over half the population and over a million people have been forced from their homes. Livelihoods have been destroyed and access to food severely limited. 60 percent of the population is undernourished and nearly half of all children in CAR are stunted.

The ongoing conflict has considerably weakened CAR’s healthcare system and many health facilities have been destroyed or are no longer functional due to security risks or lack of medication and equipment. This means that essential life-saving emergency food and medicine for malnourished children can be very hard to come by. With families already poorly equipped to cope, Covid-19 is a devastating crisis on top of a crisis.

The pharmacy at Pama Health Facility is almost empty. The only medication that remains - a full box of tablets for treating malaria (Artemether 20mg) - is out of date. Photo: Chris de Bode / CAR
The pharmacy at Pama Health Facility is almost empty. The clinic is not supported by Concern.
Augustine with her three-month-old son Passi. Photo: Chris de Bode
Augustine with her three-month-old son Passi. Photo: Chris de Bode

Augustine brought her malnourished three-month-old son, Passi, to the Pama Clinic. She had walked for several hours to reach the clinic, only to find that their supply of life-saving therapeutic food had run out long ago.

So how is our programme helping to change this?

We are working in two areas of the Central African Republic, Bossembélé and Yaloke. The health services in these areas are severely understaffed, with only three trained doctors, 16 qualified nurses and three trained midwives for almost 105,661 people.

Of the 22 health facilities in the area, only 12 are fully functional due to support from charities and non-governmental organisations, who provide 75 per cent of health services in the country. The remaining 10 are often out of stock of essential medicines, or the special therapeutic food used to treat malnourished children, and do not have the necessary staff or equipment.

We are:

  • Training staff
  • Providing medicines
  • Improving the infrastructure of health centres, including repairing damage, restoring delivery rooms and water points and providing proper spaces for consulting and treatment that allow patients privacy
  • Treating malnutrition

 

We are also spreading health and hygiene messages throughout communities by working with community volunteers, as well as traditional birth assistants and traditional healers. Traditional birth assistants and healers are still widely used in communities rather than qualified health professionals, particularly when access to health centres and medicine is limited. Sadly, however, this can often mean that people don’t get the healthcare they need.

Working with traditional birth assistants and healers in this way is a new and innovative approach. Our aim is to train them to identify critical signs of malnutrition and childhood illness, as well as the reasons why all pregnant women should be referred to health facilities for antenatal care with a skilled health provider, thus reducing the number of malnutrition cases in the community.

What do we hope to achieve?

These activities will be critical in helping to:

  • Combat malnutrition in children under five;
  • Improve access to antenatal care;
  • Scale up the usage of skilled birth attendants for pregnant women;
  • Increase access to prevention, care and treatment of childhood diseases for under-fives;
  • And boost levels of breastfeeding.

 

Ultimately, we are hopeful that this programme will significantly reduce the number of deaths of children under five and pregnant women in the Central African Republic – with approximately 12,500 people benefitting directly from this work.

Elise Ponson, Concern’s Country Director in the Central African Republic, said: “Since 2012, conflict in CAR has left communities highly vulnerable and made life-saving food and medicine for children and mothers hard to come by. Thanks to this funding, we are able to ensure that more people - from community level to those working in health facilities - are empowered and able to strengthen the health and nutrition system in this region.”

Without the support of UK aid, and those of you who donated to our Free from Hunger appeal, projects like this – that truly save lives – would not exist. Together, we are creating positive sustainable change. We must work together to keep the momentum going.

Free From Hunger

  • Help malnourished children survive and grow up with the strength they need to be free from hunger.

  • £40 could provide medicine and six weeks worth of therapeutic food for a malnourished child.

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