A savior for malnourished children
Will he still be alive by Monday?” Luzviminda Quidet asked village health workers. Luzviminda was referring to her grandson, Shalimar, who was then a year and 11 months old.
The 56-year-old grandmother had just been told to bring Shalimar to the barangay health center because he had Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
It was a Friday, and health workers just came from a seminar by the ACF (Action Contre La Faim or Action Against Hunger) International in a hotel here.
Immediately after the workshop on the ACF’s nutrition program in coordination with the city government, Linda Ledesma, the barangay nutrition scholar, and her team went to Luzviminda’s house to deliver an urgent message: Shalimar should be at the health center on Monday.
“That was when she asked us if Shalimar could still make it on Monday,” Ledesma said.
The boy, diagnosed with SAM, was so weak that his neck could not carry his head.
“He had sunken eyes. He lost a lot of hair. He was wasting away,” Ledesma described the boy.
Shalimar was left to his grandmother’s care when he was still a year and eight months old.
“I don’t know where she is right now,” Luzviminda said of her daughter.
Luzviminda said that even before her daughter left, she had not been taking care of Shalimar.
“Then she suddenly disappeared, leaving behind her son. That was when the boy’s weight suddenly dropped,” Luzviminda said, admitting that she and her husband, a pedicab driver, had a hard time feeding Shalimar.
“My husband earns just enough to put food on the table. We can’t buy milk for Shalimar,” she said.
Ledesma said they discovered Shalimar’s condition months before the ACF project was launched.
“We were having Operation Timbang in the communities when we discovered Shalimar,” said Marilyn Realista, the nutrition officer of District D, where Barangay 31-D belongs. District D was identified as the pilot area of the ACF program.
“That’s why when we learned that we were going to be the pilot area, we already knew Shalimar would be one of the project’s beneficiaries,” Realista said.
And on that Monday, Luzviminda and Shalimar were among the first persons to arrive at the village health center. There, Shalimar underwent the appetite test and was fed with the ready-to-use therapeutic food, or RUTF. He liked it. He was given 14 sachets of Eezee Paste, an RUTF packed with 500 calories, which he was to consume twice a day for a week.
The morning after, Ledesma and her team visited the Quidets in their small house in Barangay 31-D. The usually-frowning Luzviminda was already smiling. And even before Ledesma could say a word, Luzviminda uttered: “There you are, my angels.”
“Look at my grandson,” Luzviminda told Ledesma as she showed Shalimar who was also smiling at them.
Ledesma said it was like she was staring at a different boy—Shalimar was no longer pale.
“We saw the difference just a day after eating RUTF,” Ledesma said.
A few days later, Shalimar started standing on his own.
“He was all around our small house,” Luzviminda said.
Shalimar was 6.9 kilograms when he started taking RUTF. A week later, he weighed 8 kg. By the second week, he surpassed his ideal weight of 8.3 kg.
“Even if he was already beyond his ideal weight, he continued eating Eezee Paste for nine weeks,” Realista said.
During the nine weeks, Shalimar also learned how to talk, walk and even run.
“I was no longer ashamed of bringing him out of the house. I was even proud to show to my neighbors that the once sickly Shalimar is now healthy,” Luzviminda said.
For Realista and Ledesma, Shalimar has become a poster boy of sorts.
Under the ACF International project, which was funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the health center of District D had nine SAM patients. Most of the nine children “graduated” from the nutrition program.
“Three of the children had congenital diseases, so they were sickly to begin with. Five others had negligent guardians, or parents who do not feed their children well that they ended up having SAM,” Realista said.
The nutrition officer admitted that poverty could be one of the reasons the children lacked proper nutrition, but Realista was also quick to point out the case of Luzviminda and her grandson.
“Here we have a poor grandmother and her grandson. They did not have the means, but Luzviminda did not give up. She welcomed our help. She was always the first person to show up at the health center to get Shalimar’s weekly supply of RUTF,” Realista said.
And when Ledesma and her team made regular visits, Luzviminda was always there to accommodate them.
“On the wall of their small house, Luzviminda pasted her own chart to monitor Shalimar’s increase in weight,” Ledesma said.
“Shalimar, on the other hand, knew the routine when we were around. He would hop on the weighing scale. He would voluntarily offer his arm for the middle upper-arm circumference measurement,” Ledesma added.
More than a year after Shalimar’s recovery from acute malnutrition, Luzviminda continues to express gratitude to Realista and Ledesma.
“They are my angels,” she always says.
For Realista and Ledesma, however, it was ACF International and Unicef that should get credit.
Learning from the ACF project, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte issued an executive order that would put in place the program on Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition in the local health system.
Signed in June 2014, the executive order also allocated an annual budget of P6.5 Million to implement the program.
This would help children survive, like Shalimar.
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