UN worried about infant nutrition in Vanuatu
The United Nations says it is concerned about proper nutrition for mothers and babies in Vanuatu after cyclone Pam struck. Authorities estimate around ninety percent of the food gardens in the mostly subsistence farming country have been destroyed.
The United Nations says it is concerned about proper nutrition for mothers and babies in Vanuatu after cyclone Pam struck.
Authorities estimate around ninety percent of the food gardens in affected areas have been destroyed in the mostly subsistence farming communities of Vanuatu creating a food crisis in the country.
The UNICEF Pacific Representative, Karen Allen told Koroi Hawkins that they are keeping close watch on the situation.
KAREN ALLEN: Here in Vanuatu following cyclone Pam there are a number of risks that are fast turning into acute dangers for children. Especially children under two years old who still need their mothers breast milk. We are dealing with a situation where even before the cyclone we had a very high percentage of children who were stunted, there are a relatively small number of children suffering from acute malnutrition. But we are very worried that that situation could grow larger. In other words, that children who can slip into a state of acute malnutrition. We want to do everything possible to prevent that and one of the best ways of preventing that is to keep those children on breast milk. Now that is not always very easy for mothers who have been, who lost their homes and are themselves suffering from a variety of illnesses. So for instance you may have mothers who have other children at home in addition to the young child under age two. And you have pregnant mothers who are sometimes still breast-feeding, you have mothers who have to go out and earn some cash or replant their gardens. So so many stresses and strains on mothers that may interfere with good breast-feeding. So some of the actions that we are taking, we are working with the ministry of health and also very closely with Save the Children and World Vision here on the ground in Vanuatu. To identify mothers of breast-feeding babies and to give them counselling. And, first and foremost we need to remind the mums that, of the importance of breast-feeding that it is not something that should be easily put aside. That they do need to get the baby on the breast and not put them on bottles because there is a tendency to mix the wrong things in the bottle. Or not have the water and the soap to clean the bottles. And, we are already seeing an upkick in diarrhea. So, we have got there is an emergency surveillance system in place and we are already seeing an increase in diarrhea so we are very worried about that.
KOROI HAWKINS: Now we met a young mother in Cook's Bay out on Erromango Island who was unable to breastfeed her baby and who used to supplement baby food with local produce. But there was no more papaya or manioc or cassava or kumara because the cyclone had destroyed everything. Are you looking at these extreme cases as well are you seeing anything like that or was that just a one off that we experienced?
KA: No it is relatively common that women begin to suffer from engorged breasts, inverted nipples various bacterial and fungus infections. So there is always that underlying problem, but it's undoubtedly becoming worse with a lack of soap and clean water and women living in difficult stress circumstances. In terms of the supplementary feeding WHO and UNICEF are very strong on the point that exclusive breastfeeding up to six months is the best thing for the baby and that is really what we are heavily promoting. And, if a mother does have difficulty doing that breastfeeding there is a whole set of very simple home remedies that they need to be counselled on, on how to fix that problem. And, for sure we are trying to get back up the outreach system so that the visiting nurses cannot only counsel at home but also refer the mums that might need more than just the simple home remedies to make sure that they can continue to express that breast milk.
KH: Maybe, are there any extreme cases that you have encountered or any positive stories so far in the work that you are doing currently in the country?
KA: Really the presence of 15 emergency medical teams on the ground from various countries including New Zealand has made an enormous positive difference and has saved lives. No doubt about that. What we are looking at now with the Ministry of Health and WHO is how to replace those emergency medical teams as they begin to leave, with the Ni-Vanuatu trained doctors and nurses who need to get back to work and for that they need some resources. In terms of the positive cases, then I would say the lives saved by those emergency medical teams. And, secondly I would say the doctors and the nurses are getting back to work. Health clinics are being restored at least with supplies although it is going to take longer to get back the electricity and the roofs and so forth. But the resilience of the people here and their determination to be positive and to build back is really, really heartening. And, everywhere I go I see communities coming together to help fix up the health centre with whatever they have, fix up the school, to get the kids back in school. To get the sick children and moms to whatever there is, it might be a tent it might be a lean-to. To start using those emergency health supplies that are getting out there.
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