Something was wrong when the doctor led me into the children's room at Guija Hospital in Gaza Province, southern Mozambique. What struck me was the stillness. From my previous job as a primary school teacher, the one thing I know is a room of children is never usually this quiet.
There was no movement from the seven babies, all receiving IV fluids, and their single ward beds appeared gigantic, in contrast to their tiny bodies. I looked into the eyes of a baby girl who was staring straight at me. She could not move or interact; she was extremely weak following her admission to the hospital for malnutrition.
She'd come from Guija village where drought is wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods. In April this year, Mozambique activated the Red Institutional alert for the south and central regions of the country; nearly 200,000 children are expected to need treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year.
I thought of my friend's two-year old son. The way he does not sit still for a single minute, always cheekily wanting to play, or run, or read a story. The drought in Gaza is affecting everyone, and looking into the eyes of the baby in hospital, all I could do is hope that medical intervention had come soon enough. I hoped the treatment would work, and the babies recovered soon.
These children were admitted to the Guija Hospital with severe acute malnutrition, following a check-up screening from health workers in the community "mobile brigades." These mobile healthcare workers, supported by UNICEF and the Government of Mozambique, visit remote communities to provide urgent, life-saving health care to communities that have no access to medical facilities.
Malnutrition is increasing here because of the drought this year and at least two children are treated each day for malnutrition; when the malnutrition is very severe or when there are complications, the babies are admitted to hospital.
Often the children spend two to three weeks in hospital to recover, provided with a therapeutic milk (F75), nutritional advice and medical treatment for any complications. Sadly, one of the babies (one year, seven months) recently died in the hospital. He said that sometimes mothers do not realise that their babies are sick. The head may appear larger and the feet swollen - clear signs of malnutrition - but the children come to the hospital too late.
Following a long day in the surrounding drought affected communities, meeting with the mobile brigade teams, and families who rely on this health care, and completely covered in dust, I asked my colleague, Benedito, if we could go back to the hospital to check on the babies.
When we returned, the babies' mothers were also back at the hospital, after spending the day at work or caring for their other children. Every baby was on his or her mother's lap, or being fed the therapeutic milk. The baby who had no energy to move in the morning, met my eyes, and this time I could see she had an inquisitive look. I knew then that she was going to fight as hard as possible to recover. The loving bond between mother and child was beautiful to see, and it was this love, and the right medical care that would help these children through the worse drought that has affected Mozambique in 30 years.
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