fighting malnutrition in West Pokot, Kenya

A father's fight to feed his children

Families can often face difficulties in taking their children for treatment, something which mothers in West Pokot, Kenya, know about all too well. 

By Action Against Hunger

Jan 15 2014

Thick smoke surrounds Joseph Ngolemwai as he digs his spade into the ground. With a deep grunt he heaves it back out and throws a pile of mud on to his mound of smoking firewood.
The 32-year-old is making charcoal. It is tough work and it sometimes takes days for Joseph to make enough to sell at the market.
Joseph’s wife sadly died six months ago as she tried to cross the river during a flood. As a single father and sole provider for three young boys, Joseph now needs to make more charcoal than ever to provide his children with enough food to eat.
His youngest son, nine-month-old Kiptoo has severe acute malnutrition. He was diagnosed when Joseph took his sons for polio vaccinations at the local health centre in West Pokot, Kenya, and an Action Against Hunger Community Health Worker screened the children for malnutrition.

An unexpected diagnosis

Joseph was surprised to hear his son was malnourished, as he looked the same as the other children his age in the village. Kiptoo was enrolled into Action Against Hunger’s outpatient treatment programme, where he can be treated at home with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods and attend the clinic every week for check-ups.   

Joseph’s children usually eat ugali every day – a traditional corn paste staple – and when Kiptoo first tried his new therapeutic foods at home he had some diarrhoea as his body reacted to the new nutrients. 
Joseph says: “My son did not look to be sick and so when he was ill after eating the new foods I was worried. I decided to stop him from eating the new food and instead he eats ugali with the rest of the family.”

Gathering local knowledge to solve access barriers

That was three months ago and unfortunately Kiptoo is still severely malnourished, growing worse every day. Community Health Workers, trained by Action Against Hunger, decided to visit Joseph’s family to understand why Kiptoo hadn’t been back to the clinic. 
They carefully explain to Joseph that the diarrhoea can be prevented if he brings Kiptoo back to complete his treatment and that the little boy needs more nutrients than the ugali can give him.
Joseph says: “It is difficult to understand that my son is sick because he does not behave in a sick way. However I do know that he does not have enough nutritious food to eat.  Now I will go back to the centre and see what else they can do for him.”

Enabling families to get the treatment they desperately need 

Like many families in West Pokot, Joseph is accustomed to treating sickness with traditional medicines, which can sadly prove dangerous for malnourished children. Luckily Joseph now has the support of community health workers who will help him make sure that Kiptoo gets the treatment he needs to recover and thrive.
As Joseph tackles his burning charcoal his eyes flash with determination. This is a man on a mission - a man who loves his children deeply and will do anything to keep them safe and healthy, even if it means trusting in something new and unknown.     

Action Against Hunger has been working in Kenya since 2002
Action Against Hunger has been working in Kenya since 2002


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Editor’s Note: We're proud to be highlighting some of our nutrition success stories from West Pokot, Kenya, and wish to extend our gratitude to partners UNICEF and ECHO (The European Community Humanitarian Office) for supporting these programs.

Photo Credit: © Samuel Hauenstein Swan