We’ve all seen the graphic pictures on the news and read the heart wrenching stories on the famine currently happening is Somalia. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better and for some the help may have come a bit too late.
In the middle of this famine, there is a place that houses the sickest survivors. Along the border between Somalia and Kenya at the International Rescue Committee hospital is a place some call the stabilization center. As a medical term, it refers to the normalization of vital signs, replacing fluids and treating acute and deadly illness.
Not to our surprise, however, this place is far from stable. Instead it is filled with people who are starving to death, in some cases, their bodies too far gone to even absorb the food finally made available to them.
Live from Somalia, CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta, recalls his sightings at the hospital. “I met 6-year-old Ahmed Mohammad there. As soon as he entered Dadaab refugee camp with his father after 10 days of walking under the East African sun, it was clear his tiny prone body may have been robbed of nutrition for too long,” Gupta says.
Dr. Humphrey Musyoka told Gupta that the boy is half the size he should be and that had a couple more weeks gone by the child would have been lost.
Musyoka knows, because over the last few months, he has seen it happen more times than he likes to remember.
Dying of starvation is neither quick nor painless. Not too long after food deprivation the body resorts to fuel reserves in the liver and fatty tissues. Once the fat is all gone, and the person is a skeleton of what he or she once was, the body searches for protein, and finds it in muscle tissue. Even the muscle of the heart is consumed, leaving someone drained and listless.
The body shuts down. The pulse, the blood pressure and body temperature drop and little kids such as Ahmed completely stop growing.
Once the danger of Ahmed’s condition was assessed, Musyoka immediately started a plan to save him. An IV was placed, and fluids were started slowly. Too much fluid could have overwhelmed his system. The same could be said of many foods, which may cause severe diarrhea or vomiting.
Ahmed will be given Plumpy’nut, a paste that has a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, along with vitamins and minerals.
The key is to give a lot of calories in small amounts because Ahmed’s stomach is now so shrunken from his malnutrition. Ahmed will have his blood drawn to check for anemia and possible bacterial infections.
Musyoka said he is cautiously optimistic about Ahmed, but he carries a lot of anguish over what he has seen this summer. As do we all.
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