Maverick Citizen

HUNGER CRISIS

A silent killer is stalking babies in Nelson Mandela Bay

A silent killer is stalking babies in Nelson Mandela Bay

Between April and September, 10 children died and 108 were hospitalised with severe acute malnutrition in Nelson Mandela Bay.

In the six months from April to September this year, 108 children were admitted to Dora Nginza Provincial Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay and Uitenhage Provincial Hospital with severe acute malnutrition, according to the Eastern Cape Department of Health. Some also suffered from other diseases and conditions, including cerebral palsy. 

Ten of these children died, including some with multiple diseases as their health conditions left them vulnerable to severe acute malnutrition.  

On Sunday night, the mother of a five-month-old baby asked Julia Mbambo, who runs a soup kitchen in Nelson Mandela Bay’s Gqeberha township, for help with her baby. She only had cooldrink powder to keep the child alive. The mother does not have an identity document and the child does not have a birth certificate. As a result, she was unable to apply for a Child Support Grant. 

The baby was taken to Dora Nginza Provincial Hospital, where she remains in the intensive care unit.  

Desperate mom in Nelson Mandela Bay keeps infant alive with cooldrink powder as food crisis hits SA

“The emerging concerns now amongst those children who are presenting with and dying of severe acute malnutrition are that some are newly diagnosed with TB and/or HIV. Many have also not been immunised,” said health spokesperson Yonela Dekeda. 

“Currently, we have noticed a decline in mortality as services are more accessible post-Covid-19.”  

She said many mothers and children were defaulting on their HIV and TB treatments because they did not have food, and the medication must be taken with food.   


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The department was introducing “key interventions”, including establishing growth monitoring sites, measures to enable the early detection of children at risk and linking them to care for food supplementation, breastfeeding support groups and launching the First 1,000 Days Programme in all facilities.  

“Malnutrition requires a whole-of-society approach and the department therefore collaborates with other departments,” she added. 

Paula Proudlock, from the Children’s Institute, said they were seeing a similar trend, with young mothers in Mthatha defaulting on their HIV and TB treatments because they do not have food. 

She said the Child Support Grant did not keep up with food inflation, making it impossible for mothers to use it to look after themselves and their children. 

While starving Gqeberha baby remains in ICU, community workers step up to help other mothers battling to feed their infants

While the Department of Health deals with the fallout of severe acute malnutrition, the Department of Social Development is charged with preventing it. Its spokesperson, Mzukisi Solani, has still not answered questions about the distribution of emergency food parcels in Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Previously, the department blamed the Covid-19 pandemic, a slow contractor and an outdated database for its failure to deliver food parcels.  

A joint research project carried out in 2021 by the University of Cape Town and Nelson Mandela University in the outpatient unit of Dora Nginza Provincial Hospital and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that only a third of households that formed part of the survey had enough food. Close to 30% were at risk of hunger and 37.5% of respondents said they regularly did not have enough food, leaving children hungry.  

Researchers added that the prevalence of stunting, being underweight and wasting among children was high. At the time of the research, 2.8% of the children surveyed were classified as having severe acute malnutrition, 3.9% had moderately severe malnutrition and 13% were at risk of wasting, with about the same percentage underweight for their age. A quarter of the children were stunted and 12.5% were severely stunted. DM/MC

How you can help
Walmer Angels has started a project to provide emergency baby and infant food, porridge and formula to moms in distress in Gqeberha. Many moms would like to breastfeed but as they themselves are not eating regularly they cannot. If you can assist in any way, please get in touch with Walmer Angels’ founder, Glenda Brunette at [email protected].

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