Xukan, mother of Anzal, demonstrates how to use the midupper arm circumference band to see how malnourished her daughter is

How One Story of Hope Changed Attitudes to Malnutrition

Anzal’s case has eased our referrals from Aato, Somalia. Now every parent believes that, if Anzal made it, their children can make it, too.

By Action Against Hunger

Nov 19 2018

This World Children's Day, we celebrate how Action Against Hunger gives hope to parents and their children.

“I nicknamed Anzal ‘Action Against Hunger’ because they saved her life,” Xukun says. A bubbly girl runs towards her mother, giggling, her cheerful personality envelops the atmosphere.

21-month old Anzal has shown a complete change in her condition over the past five months. At 16 months, Anzal was unable to do many things other children her age could do. She suffered from diarrhoea, vomiting and fever, making her weak and fragile. As Anzal’s neck became too weak to support the weight of her head, she became unable to hold her head steady on her own.

Her mother Xukun was devastated but determined that things could change for her child. “I was pregnant with my last born then, but was ready to take my daughter anywhere to save her life,” says the 28-year-old mother of six. Anzal’s father Mohamud didn’t share this sense of determination. He had lost all hope for her recovery, and was resigned to losing his little girl to malnutrition.

Anzal and her family live in Aato, a village 25 miles west of El Barde, a town in southwest Somalia. Her father, aged 31, is a religious teacher at a local school and the sole breadwinner for the family of eight – they survive on his salary of less than £23 a month. 

Low on money, low on hope

“Unfortunately, her condition was not getting any better. I was then advised to take her to the Action Against Hunger team, who were coming in a few days to visit our village,” Xukun says. 

Xukun and Anzal arrived at the Action Against Hunger Outreach Centre in Aato. After assessing her and seeing how severe her case was, the nurse recommended that Anzal should be referred to the Action Against Hunger Stabilisation Centre in El Barde. 

Anzal’s mother was ready to take her daughter to the Stabilisation Centre with our team. This proposition was however met with some obstruction from Anzal’s father who didn’t believe that medical intervention would change anything. “I told them not to take her away, I can bury her here. I was hopeless,” he says dejectedly. “I just lost my herd of 30 goats to the drought and here I was about to lose my daughter.” 

When Anzal was admitted to the Stabilisation Centre, she was extremely emaciated, her temperature was over 100 degrees, and she had a lot of trouble feeding due to sores in her mouth. At the Centre, Anzal was fed through a tube for four days, put on antibiotics and painkillers to relieve her fever. She was also given therapeutic milk to treat her severe malnutrition. Her response was immediate. 

“On day two, she was no longer feverish and, within a week, her oral sores completely healed. She was able to feed well. Anzal responded to treatment well and she gradually gained weight by the day,” says Abdinur, one of the nurses at the Stabilisation Centre. 

In 2017, Somalia was declared to be in a state of pre-famine. Both droughts and flooding caused by climate change, as well as conflicts, are driving a widespread, dangerous food crisis.

Anzal is one of 189,751 children treated for acute malnutrition by Action Against Hunger since 2016. The Action Against Hunger team in Somalia helped provide critical information to 55,972 caregivers of malnourished children on optimal infant and young child feeding practices.

In the Stabilisation Centre, Xukun was able to learn from Action Against Hunger health educators about health and nutrition, including ways to help keep her daughter healthy. Once Anzal was making way in her recovery, she was transferred to an Action Against Hunger Outpatient Therapeutic programme in her home village of Aato, where she continued to receive nutrition treatment for two months.

She was then transferred to the Action Against Hunger supplementary feeding programme. After spending two months there, Anzal was able to return home where she would be closely monitored by Action Against Hunger Community Health Workers to ensure that there was no possibility of relapse. 

A story of optimism

 “Hey, Action Against Hunger, come here!” Xukun Mohamed calls out to her bubbly daughter Anzal. Her curious eyes gaze at the unfamiliar sight of a car parked nearby, and then she runs toward her mother, giggling. 

Anzal’s story represents the optimism and new sense of purpose for the many families left devastated by food crisis and malnutrition.

“Anzal’s case has eased our referrals from Aato. Now every parent believes that, if Anzal made it, their children can make it, too,” Abdikarim says. 

Giving hope to parents

Action Against Hunger’s Food Security and Livelihood team in El Barde are planning to include Xukun in their upcoming Cash for Work programme to help her earn an income to support her children and prevent another case of malnutrition in her family. Action Against Hunger has run successful cash for work programmes in many countries such as Syria, Jordan and Haiti to help improve families’ incomes.

Images: Action Against Hunger Somalia