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Nutritional Emergency Continues in Angola; MSF Opens New TFC in Kamacupa
May 3, 2002
Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) opened a new therapeutic feeding center (TFC) in Kamacupa, Angola. Built in just eight days, the six-tent structure increases MSF's treatment capacity from 450 to 700 patients. The expansion is part of an effort to cope with the massive human crisis sweeping through Angola as waves of people in desperate condition come out of areas that were, until recently, completely inaccessible to aid agencies. The death of Jonas Savimbi may have led to an agreement between the government and UNITA rebels to end 27 years of war, but hunger and death still roam Angola's countryside.
According to Joanna Ladomirska, Field Coordinator for the MSF program in Kamacupa, in the last few weeks, hundreds of people have reached Kamacupa from as far away as a hundred miles. Many of these people are suffering severe malnutrition, both kwashiorkor and marasmus.
"We expect everything," Ladomirska said. Just two days ago, the pre-existing TFC admitted 5 new patients from a group of 20 who had walked from Gamba, more than 45 miles northwest of Kamacupa.
Most everyone arrives by foot after cold, hard journeys through rural Angola that last for days. They survive on whatever they can find: sweet potato leaves, green bananas, or mushrooms. And these are the lucky ones.
"We lost two children from starvation on the road," said one woman who was originally from Umpulo, a commune 65 miles to the southeast. Many of the tens of thousands cramming the 11 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) that ring Kamacupa have similar stories.
"Now, we are seeing people arrive in much worse condition," explained Erwin Van Der Borght, Head of Mission for MSF in Angola. "Even families of high-ranking UNITA members—who normally have access to better living-standards and food—are in our centers." MSF programs in Caala, Matala, Malanje, Kuito, and Luena are experiencing a similar surge. According to Van Der Borght, "The levels of malnutrition and mortality are catastrophic."
There are success stories at the MSF therapeutic feeding center in Kamacupa.
One and a half year old Eduardo Lucamba arrived three weeks ago with his mother and two older siblings. They had journeyed by foot without food from Cacoia, fifteen miles northeast. Although he suffered from severe acute malnutrition, his condition slowly improved to the point where he could be moved from intensive care to the day-care unit. But there he contracted malaria, and soon fell unconscious.
"This is a happy story," said Dr. Siri Foss, a 33-year old MSF volunteer from Norway who has been here for nearly a month. "He started to wake up and drink a little milk on the fifth day. Now I think he will be better."
But without immediate, massive intervention, there will continue to be stories like Amelia's. Six-year old Amelia Rodrigues was not as fortunate as Eduardo. She and her mother came to the MSF center just two and a half days earlier from one of the 11 IDPs surrounding Kamacupa. "She was in bad shape," Foss said. "She suffered from severe acute malnutrition and had a lot of bad wounds."
A serious infection sent her into septic shock. The local and international MSF staff tried repeatedly to start an intravenous drip, but bacteria had completely collapsed all of the girl's veins. Her eyes froze in fright as she lay on a dusty green mat, too weak to cry, and, in the end, too weak to go on living.
The separate course taken by these two children is but a small reflection of the situation unfolding in Angola. At the transit camp less than a mile outside this ruined city located at the exact center of Angola, people continue to arrive in droves. They are streaming in from as far as Gamba in the north and Umpulo in the south, sometimes walking for up to a week through the bush without food.
This Friday morning, under a cloudless sky, one mother smiled broadly at the boy cradled and crying in her arms. A few feet away, a second mother shook with grief as her dead daughter's tiny body was wrapped in a blanket and carried away.