Mobile health units saving lives in drought-affected Ethiopia
Malene Kamp Jensen, UNICEF
GODE, Ethiopia (September 18, 2011) — For Halimo Faliid, 70, the arrival of baby Higad Mahad was bittersweet. In gaining a grandson she lost her daughter, a family tragedy that is still too common in the Horn of Africa, where the current drought is adding to the hardships of women and children.
Halimo said that her daughter had given birth in their small village of Dhadafe in this dust filled and parched part of Ethiopia near the border of Somalia. Sadly, she had no idea just how drained her daughter was following labor. A few days after giving birth she quietly passed away. "She was just lying on a mattress for a week and then she died," said Ms. Faliid.
Health extension program
Without money for milk and determined not to lose the little boy as well, Ms. Faliid brought Higad to a nearby UNICEF-supported mobile health and nutrition team. The health team found Higad to be severely malnourished and rushed him and his grandmother to Gode hospital some 54 kilometres away where the little boy has slowly but surely been gaining strength while feeding on vitamin-fortified milk provided by UNICEF.
These mobile teams are part of a health extension program put in place by the Ethiopian Government with the support of UNICEF and other partners to provide a health and nutrition safety net to the most vulnerable communities. But with the worst drought in recent memory, which is killing cattle and crops and leaving over 4.56 million people in need of food support in Ethiopia, the system is severely stretched.
This year, UNICEF has added four additional teams in the Somali region, bringing the total number of mobile units it supports to 24. So far, the teams have provided over 125,000 consultations – of which some 42,000 were of children under the age of five, who are particularly vulnerable to lack of proper nutrition.
Each mobile unit comes complete with a team of five – two nurses, a social mobilizer and two health extension workers - and fresh medical and nutritional supplies stacked in the back of a jeep that crosses the desert daily to get to hard to reach villages. The care provided includes vaccinations, water purification chemicals, monitoring and treatment of child malnutrition, and giving iron supplements, tetanus shots and other neonatal support for pregnant and nursing mothers. Cases that provide extra cause for concern are referred to Gode hospital, where UNICEF is supporting the therapeutic feeding centre along with a maternal waiting area for mothers with complicated pregnancies.
'Things are getting better'
Health care workers say they are also seeing an increase in pregnant women who are anemic and low on energy – and they are ramping up efforts to urge families to be extra vigilant in alerting the mobile health teams if they have specific cause for concern.
Overall, efforts are paying off and lives are being saved.
The community leaders in the village of Dabakatur are crediting the visit of a mobile health team here every Monday with the health and nutritional support they so urgently need – especially amid worry that things could become even worse if expected rain fails in October. On one recent morning, dozens of women and children were already lined up when the mobile team pulled into the village.
"The drought here is heavy and we used to have many malnourished children," said Mohed Garune, one of the community elders. "But with the mobile health teams, for now, things are getting better."
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