Baby Beto bounces back from severe malnutrition

May 11, 2020
By Eunice Lopes

Playful, one-year-old Beto is a picture of good health. He has an adorable smile with one top tooth and two bottom teeth. When his mum holds her face close to his, they both light up. It’s hard to believe just six months ago he was severely malnourished.

In October 2019, World Vision Community Health Worker Octavio Ndaudadelela visited Beto’s home in rural Cunene Province, Angola. 

“One of the key methods of assessing a child’s nutritional status is to measure their mid-upper arm circumference, and Beto’s was just under 11 centimetres. He was severely malnourished and very unwell,” says Octavio. 

According to the World Health Organization, children with a mid-upper arm circumference of less than 11.5 centimetres have a highly elevated risk of death.

“When Beto was sick, he didn’t laugh, and he didn’t play. He cried a lot back then,” Beto’s mum Ndahambelela, recalls. “He was so unwell and thin and had lots of diarrhoea. He even stopped taking my breast milk. When I tried to give him food, he didn’t really want that either. I was so worried about him.”

An Angolese baby has his arm measured at a health clinicIn October 2019, Beto's mid-upper arm was just under 11 centimetres. According to the World Health Organization, children with a mid-upper arm circumference of less than 11.5 centimetres have a highly elevated risk of death. Photo: Eunice Lopes

Angola's worst drought in 38 years

Angola has been experiencing its worst drought in 38 years. Fifty per cent of communities in southern Angola are classified as experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity and 5.6 per cent of children are severely malnourished. “During the drought, some days we ate porridge and local fruit and some days we didn’t eat at all,” shared Ndahambelela.

Octavio administered a ready-to-use therapeutic food called MANA to Beto as soon as he was identified with severe malnutrition. Provided by World Vision Canada partner, Food for Famine, MANA is specifically designed to treat children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. 

“Beto didn’t like it the first day, but from the second day he ate well,” Ndahambelela remembers.

An Angolese baby holds a package of ready-to-use therapeutic food. He is held by this mother.Beto's severe malnutrition was treated with ready-to-use therapeutic food MANA from World Vision Canada partner, Food for Famine. Photo: Eunice Lopes

Octavio advised Ndahambelela to take Beto to the hospital as soon as possible and offered to take her by car. There, Beto continued to receive treatment.

The first 1,000 days 

Timing is critical in cases of severe malnutrition like Beto’s. The first 1,000 days from conception to a child’s second birthday are critical for growth and development. The foundation for lifelong health is laid during this time. Well-nourished pregnant and lactating women generally raise well-nourished children. When the opposite is true, this can have a lifelong, negative impact on a child’s ability to develop, grow and learn.

Beto makes a full recovery

Thankfully, Beto has now fully recovered. With a mid-upper arm circumference of above 12.5 centimetres, Beto is a healthy one-year-old.

“I thank God for witnessing how Beto’s health has improved,” says Octavio. “He was very sick. Seeing Beto so healthy really motivates me to continue this work.”

An Angolese man measures the arm of a baby. The baby is held by his mother.World Vision Community Health Worker Octavio Ndaudadelela measures Beto's mid-upper arm circumference. Photo: Suzy Sainovski

Beto’s big, bright curious eyes take in the world around him but always seem to find their way back to the centre of his universe, his mum. The bond between Beto and his mother is beautiful. 

“Now he laughs and plays. I don’t worry about him like I used to. The main thing I want for Beto is for him to stay healthy,” says a smiling Ndahambelela.

An Angolese woman holds a baby. They are smiling, and the baby appears to be going for her nose with his mouth.Beto and his mum having fun. Photo: Suzy Sainovski

“We are so grateful to Food for Famine for supplying ready-to-use therapeutic food MANA to treat Beto and thousands of other severely malnourished children in Angola," says Isaias Ricardo, World Vision Angola’s Nutrition Supervisor. "The drought has had a devasting impact on children here. This therapeutic food has made, and continues to make, a huge difference. MANA saves lives.”

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