As early as 7am, some mothers carrying babies and toddlers were already seated at the premises of a Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) in Gombe metropolis. One thing they all had in common were visibly emaciated infants.
The health facility is one of the 23 designated facilities for Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) centres treating Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in the state.
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The women wait with great expectations for healthcare workers to arrive and give them free Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), also known as Plumpy nuts, a fortified peanut butter paste rich in vitamins and specially prepared to treat malnutrition.
The CMAM centres, domiciled in PHCs in six LGAs of the state, are designed to rehabilitate severely malnourished children by giving mothers of such children the RUTF free of charge.
Among these women was 45-year-old Khadijah Adamu, who came with her daughter Hafsat Adamu. Although little Hafsat is three years old, she could easily be mistaken for a 12 months old baby because she weighs just 3 kilograms.
Khadijah said her malnourished daughter is the sixth child and she had her 16 years after her fifth child. Her husband, Malam Adamu, works as a labourer at a block industry and his income is grossly inadequate to cater for his large family of three wives and 17 children. As such, Hafsat did not get enough breast milk for months.
Subsequently, she became sick with diarrhea and vomiting and was referred to the CMAM centre by doctors at the Gombe State Specialists Hospital.
Also on the queue was 65-year-old Malama Aishatu, who brought her three-year-old grandson Adamu Ali. He is the second child of his mother who got married five years ago.
His father, Aliyu Madaki, is a commercial motorcyclist in a village located few kilometre from Gombe metropolis.
Young Ali was brought to the centre by his grandmother because his mother had delivered her third child few days ago. Ali was barely two when his mother conceived; as such he had to stop breast feeding to enable his mother nurse the pregnancy.
According to his grandmother, Malama Aishatu Madaki, not long after Ali stopped breastfeeding, he became sick and had diarrhea that lasted for weeks.
When all the local remedies failed to stop the diarrhea, the boy was finally taken to the CMAM centre in Gombe on the advice of health personnel in their village.
On her part, 25-year-old Rabiatu, who brought her daughter Aisha Dahiru to the health facility to get the plumpy nuts, said the girl was born seven months ago but took ill lately and has been having diarrhea. The girl is her third daughter after five years of marriage. Aisha looks emaciated and has lost weight.
Her father, a teacher in a public primary school, has seven children with his other wife.
When Rabiatu took her daughter to the hospital, she was referred to the CMAM centre to get the free plumpy nuts.
When she was first registered at the centre, Aisha weighed just 4kg.
But five weeks after she is fast recovering as she now weighs 8kg.
The mothers, who waited patiently for the health workers to arrive, were, however, utterly disappointed when they eventually arrived and informed them that the health centre was out of stock of the RUTF.
Their moods immediately changed to that of despair and uncertainty because of the danger that looms ahead.
This scenario is the same in almost all the 23 CMAM centres treating Severe Acute Malnutrition located in six local government areas of Akko, Dukku, Gombe, Nafada, Kaltungo and Kwami.
On the average, each of the CMAM centres receive at least 250 new cases daily.
According to findings, a carton of the RUTF contains 125 packets of the plumpy nuts and each carton costs N25,000.
A severely malnourished child needs at least 21 packets per week, that is 84 packets monthly, and the treatment would last for at least eight weeks for the child to fully recover from the Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
A Focal Person for Nutrition in Gombe LGA, Muhammad Haruna Bawa, told Daily Trust Saturday that to address the frequent shortage of the RUTF, the state government is focusing on preventive measures to protect the children from getting malnourished.
“The focus now is to prevent the children from malnutrition; so instead of treatment, we are turning to local production of KwashPap also known as ‘tom-brown’ using soya beans, millet and groundnuts to produce the food locally,” he said.
Bawa revealed that grinding machines were already procured and distributed across the 11 local government areas of the state under the Accelerating Nutrition Result in Nigeria (ANRIN) project.
Shedding more light on the local production of tom-brown, the state’s Nutrition Officer, Mrs Ronas Amusa, said it would be used as a complementary food for children who have been screened and found moderately malnourished at the facilities.
She explained that the nutrition office is collaborating with the state’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, to provide the raw materials for production of the food.
Mrs Amusa also decried that out of the 11 LGAs in the state, only six had CMAM centres, and therefore urged the state government to scale up the service to the remaining five LGAs for effective service delivery.
“Our prayers and appeals are for the government to please provide the RUTF to save our children from dying. I came all the way from our village, which is far away from Gombe, only to be told that the plumpy nuts have finished,” one of the mothers said.