In the village of Lokomarinyang, in the scorching desert heat of Turkana, northern Kenya, mothers gather at a school and health centre. They’ve brought their children to see a Kenya Red Cross team of health professionals who are running a mobile clinic.
Dr Farah Amin, from Garissa, has been working in Turkana for six weeks, travelling daily to cover an area of 15-20,000 people. Kenya Red Cross team leader James Mwangi explains that Dr Amin is Muslim but, even though today is Eid, he’s working. When asked about this, Dr Amin very modestly shrugs and says: “I’m celebrating with the kids.”
James later says that the Red Cross nutritional team, of which Dr Amin is a key part, travels to each place once every two weeks, so he knew that these children and vulnerable mothers wouldn’t have seen him for a full month if he’d taken Eid off.
In an area where there’s one doctor for every 155,600 people, Dr Amin is literally a lifesaver.
Helping people grow stronger
Dr Amin explains how the children were assessed when they first arrived at the clinic six weeks ago: “Pregnant and lactating women are given Unimix, a nutritious corn/soy porridge. Children are given therapeutic foods depending on how severely malnourished they are.”
If they are well enough to receive outpatient therapy, they are given Plumpynut, a peanut paste used to treat acute malnutrition. If they are malnourished and also have swelling, diarrhoea or other medical conditions, they are sent to the stabilisation centre in Kaikor where they are given therapeutic milk.
If they just need some supplementary feeding, they are given Unimix. The goal is to move them along the line, so if they originally had to have Plumpynut they are soon well enough to move on to Unimix.
Dr Amin explains what happens when they’ve finished their treatment: “After they are well enough to be discharged, they become part of the general food distribution, which is run by Oxfam. Each family gets maize flour, pulses and vegetable oil because we don’t want to see these kids back here once they’re healthy again.”
Aside from providing highly nutritious food, the Red Cross health team also gives the children the vaccinations and medication they need.
Women and children
Turkana children, women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to Kenya’s food crisis right now.
The Turkana are nomads, and families used to move together. Today some of the settlements are more or less permanent but now, with water and pastures increasingly difficult to find, men move with the livestock to find new pastures and leave the aged, women and children behind.
The problem is that is that when the livestock moves away, women, children and the elderly cannot get milk or sell an animal to eat.
In Lokomarinyang, the mothers and children stay in the village while they’re being treated.
Robert Esetcon, a pharmacist from Turkana working with the Kenya Red Cross nutritional team, talks to a local mother. “She says she appreciates the aid she’s received. Her family can improve and get energy and support.”
Read about the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal