Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Littlest Things

Last week, Navyn Salem, Executive Director of Edesia, traveled to Cap-Haitien, Haiti with Edesia’s Nutrition Research & Policy Advisor, Nicole Henretty. The purpose of their trip was to visit a research project involving Mamba, a peanut-based Ready-to-Use school food snack, developed by Edesia, which is currently in trials at select elementary schools. Navyn’s twin daughters, who are in sixth grade, also joined and became witnesses to what life is like for their counterparts in Haiti. They also had a chance to visit a clinic that treats children with Severe Acute Malnutrition with Plumpy’Nut®. Below is a first-hand account of that experience written by Zara Salem.

"The Littlest Things"
By Zara Salem

As our dirty, off-white SUV rumbled down the bustling, trash-filled streets, I looked out my window watching school children and motorcycles whiz by. I wondered where this adventure in Cap Haitien on the north coast of Haiti would lead me.

Photo credit: Karen O'Hern
We pulled into the small cement clinic that held school children on one side and babies on the other. They came dressed in their finest as if they knew we were coming and waited patiently to be checked for severe acute malnutrition with their mothers. The school children gathered around us wearing neatly pressed uniforms and matching big white bows in their hair staring in awe at us probably wondering where we came from and why.

The first baby entered the dark green room to be weighed and measured and given their weekly supply of Plumpy’Nut, a fortified peanut butter made from peanuts, milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals, proven to treat the most severe cases of malnutrition. All of the babies there were severely malnourished and were very small and skinny. Here in Haiti most of the kids are very short and not healthy because they don’t get enough food to eat.

I looked around the room stunned to see all the babies eating the Plumpy’Nut when I noticed one in particular that seemed so weak she could not hold her head up and had many breaks in her skin. She was refusing to eat the Plumpy’Nut and turned her head whenever she was trying to be fed. We learned that the caregiver was not her mother but a cousin because the mother had recently died. She struggled to get tiny bites into her mouth but it wasn't working.

“I've seen this before. This little one is extremely thirsty.” My mom told me.
“Can we buy her some water?” I asked hopefully.
“Sure, here are a few gourdes (Haitian money) to buy some water. Hopefully that will do the trick.” She said with encouragement.

Photo credit: Navyn Salem
After buying the baby a pouch of water from the vendor in front of the clinic, she gulped it down like she had never tasted it before. We tried again to feed the baby some Plumpy’Nut and this time she finally started to eat! In between food and water she finished the whole packet of Plumpy’Nut with the help of Nicole, a nutritionist who works with my mom.

Nicole picked up the baby and became instantly concerned because she felt a rattle in the little girl’s chest. Without delay she went to find the nurse to see what was wrong. The nurse brought her into the office and soon realized she had pneumonia. They gave her some medicine to take home. They also checked her for HIV and fortunately she was negative. I was so relieved to hear the good news and so happy that Nicole was there to help.

The littlest things like picking up a baby can lead to potentially life-changing events. When a child is severely malnourished, complications can be life threatening. Without Nicole’s small action this baby could have died. I realized how little it takes to save a life and it is hard to imagine what might have happened if we didn't wander into that clinic that day.