October 28, 2011
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"5 Lives" tells the stories of people who MSF works with every day, people whose lives often hinge on whether or not they can gain access to a simple medical intervention.
Their personal experiences provide a snapshot of the types of unnecessary suffering MSF medical staff see first-hand on a daily basis in places where people can’t get adequate medical care. These are situations that could be avoided with proper and sustainable funding and investment in public health. As doctors and nurses, we can see how investing in the futures of people like those profiled here can transform the lives of indivudals and create a strong foundation for their families and their communities to build on.
That’s why MSF supports calls to permanently allocate a small portion of a new financial transaction tax (FTT), which has been proposed by some governments, to support global health needs. A regular stream of funding would help provide some of the resources needed to address unchecked health crises around the world.
The individuals you'll meet in this report have benefitted from relatively straightforward medical interventions, but their stories hint at the enormous impact the interventions that saved their lives could have if they were made available on a wider scale. An allocation of proceeds from the FTT for global health could help make that possible.
Burkina Faso 2010 © Jessica Dimmock/VII Network
Catching childhood malnutrition early saves lives
Each year, Natacha, a single mother in Burkina Faso, struggles to get her children safely through the precarious time between harvests when food is scarce and young children are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition.
Malnutrition contributes to the death of well over two and a half million children under the age of five. Ready-to-use foods have been used for some time to save the lives of dangerously malnourished children. Now we know that providing children who are at risk with supplemental foods, that meet their nutritional needs, will spare them from irreversible consequences on their growth and development and prevent them from falling into the life-threatening severe form of malnutrition.
This kind of intervention could help Natacha and give longer term protection to her son, Alexi and his siblings.
“Eating millet porridge every day is the equivalent of living off bread and water.”
Alexi was malnourished before reaching his first birthday. He lives with his mother Natacha and his two siblings in a small village in northern Burkina Faso. Natacha grows millet for the family. But the grain she harvests lasts them only four months and they go hungry the rest of the year. The markets are full, but she cannot afford to buy the food she wants.
“I prefer fish, because it’s got lots of vitamins, but I don’t have enough money for it.”
Alexi is at the most vulnerable age for malnutrition – between six months and two years and his diet was not providing him with the essential nutrients he needs to grow, be healthy and fight off infections. “Eating millet porridge every day is the equivalent of living off bread and water,” says MSF’s nutrition advisor Susan Shepherd.
Worried about her son, Natacha took him to MSF’s hospital. “When I got there, they took him in their arms. They told me he was sick.” Without treatment, Alexi’s condition was likely to become life-threatening.
Natacha was given a supply of packets of peanut paste containing milk powder, sugar and oil, and enriched with vitamins and essential nutrients as treatment. This ready-to-use food needs no refrigeration or preparation, and can be fed to children by their parents at home. Alexi responded well to the treatment: he gained weight steadily, and after just a few weeks was out of danger.
Alexi was given ready-to-use therapeutic foods developed to treat children already at a dangerous stage of malnutrition. But if his mother, Natacha, had been able to get hold of what are called supplemental foods, that contain sufficient nutrients for a growing child, then Alexi might never have fallen ill through acute malnutrition in the first place. His life and many other children that live in similar contexts of humanitarian crises could be protected this way. But today, the lack of funds means the foods needed to address malnutrition are all too often rationed to the severest cases.
What it costs to fight acute childhood malnutrition:
In 2010, MSF treated over 300,000 children with severe acute malnutrition and distributed the latest generation of nutritionally-enhanced supplements to over 150,000 children, in 28 countries.
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© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)