•Along with the other arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) regions of Kenya, Turkana County has experienced three years of prolonged, severe drought followed recently by rains and flash floods.
•With support from Usaid, Unicef has provided RUTF to 219 health centres and 490 outreach sites across Turkana, to treat children with malnutrition.
Daniel Ereng is nurse in charge at Sopel Dispensary, Turkana County. He’s an energetic and passionate health care worker who has made it his personal mission in life to bring health and nutrition services to remote rural communities.
Over the last three years, Kenya has been affected by the worst drought in decades, driven by climate change. Most of the families in Daniel’s area are pastoralists, who rely on their livestock for survival, but very few of their animals have survived.
At Sopel Dispensary, Daniel starts his morning routine. A line of mothers and grandmothers have arrived, some the night before. They sit patiently in a row on the concrete bench that runs along the inside wall of the dispensary. Most of the mothers wear traditional Turkana dress – colourful robes and tall bead necklaces. Almost without exception, they have brought with them young children suffering from malnutrition.
Moving along the line, Daniel measures the mid-upper arm circumference, weight and height of each child to determine their nutrition status. For those that are severely malnourished, he gives them sachet of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) – a kind of nutrient-dense peanut paste. “First, we tear the packet and ensure it is safe for the child,” he explains, offering the sachet to 11-month-old Ekerip. “Then, we give it to the child to test his appetite. You can see that he’s consuming it very well. Congratulations, he’s doing well!”
Afterwards, Daniel takes Ekerip’s mother, Akure, to his office for a consultation. He takes Ekerip’s patent record from a shelf and enters his new measurements, including an arm circumference of 12 cm, coloured yellow to show that she has moved out of the high-risk phase. “I first saw Ekerip when he was just 6 months old,” he recalls. “I did a screening and found that he had severe acute malnutrition. I’ve been doing follow ups since then. You can see the improvement – he’s almost ready to be discharged.”
Along with the other arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) regions of Kenya, Turkana County has experienced three years of prolonged, severe drought followed recently by rains and flash floods. The landscape around Sopel remains mostly dry and sandy, but trees have returned to life and pasture is beginning to reappear on the previously barren ground. However, it will take families like Akure’s much longer to recover.
“The rains signal recovery but it’s a long haul. For this community to recover from drought, we’re talking about one and a half years,” Francis Kidake, nutrition specialist at Unicef Kenya, explains. “That’s because we need to wait for the pasture and crops to grow, the condition of surviving animals to improve, and for them to reproduce, before people start getting milk and meat again. And many families have lost all their livestock. They have no resources and still need support to rebuild their lives.”
With support from Usaid, Unicef has provided RUTF to 219 health centres and 490 outreach sites across Turkana, to treat children with malnutrition. At Sopel Dispensary, Unicef has also provided medicines and a fridge for storing vaccines, renovated a borehole to provide safe water, and is supporting the health centre to do mobile outreach to remote villages in the area.
After the consultation, Akure packs several sachets of RUTF in her bag, ready to begin the long walk back to her village. Her husband used to be considered wealthy, due to the large number of livestock that he owned, but that was before the drought.
“We used to have so many animals – goats, sheep, camels and cows,” Akure explains. “But we lost over 40 animals during the drought. My husband migrated with the rest in search of pasture. Now we rely on just a few goats that survived. It’s not enough to feed my children. I feel that we’re not in a position to get the things we need to survive.”
Despite these challenges, Akure is grateful to Daniel and Sopel Dispensary. “I really appreciate the service of giving my child therapeutic food,” she adds. “At times, Ekerip develops diarrhoea. That’s why we come back to the health centre. But I’m happy that since I started this programme, he has been much healthier.”