By Andrew Wasike
TURKANA, Kenya (AA) - In Turkana county, Northern Kenya, one of the driest places in East and Central Africa, thousands of children are suffering from acute malnutrition.
Paul Ekiru is a community health volunteer in Nakatorungot village, Lodwar in the country's northwest, he goes from door to door with his mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) tape which he uses to identify undernourished children.
Ekiru said that today, a high number of children have been identified as being malnourished in the area -- already known to be afflicted by harsh climate.
Elizabeth Natisiro is mother to nine-month-old Lina Ayanaye. Ekiru wraps his MUAC tape on the upper arm of the emaciated Ayanaye.
"You see the color is pink, that shows that the child is malnourished, I will have to submit his name and location to the Ministry of Health so that if there is any food assistance then they will be the first to get it," Ayanaye said, noting that if he did not receive aid the child may die of starvation.
Though frail-looking, two-year-old Charlene Ngipuo falls just short of the malnourishment mark and in the green zone. "For this one, she is almost malnourished but right now she is okay, due to the high cases of malnutrition in this area I will not call this in but will check with them after a few weeks to see if the situation improves," Ekiru said.
Kenya's Turkana region has seen record-high malnutrition rates amid an erratic climate and a disruption of traditional food sources that have led the World Health Organization to designate it an Acute Food and Livelihood Crisis area.
German multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer, working in collaboration with Africare, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., have given out $5 million to the Turkana County Government to roll out a program that would help resolve malnutrition issues currently affecting children in the county.
The funds were pumped in to support local communities and 15,000 malnourished children among them, in a program dubbed IMPACT, or the Improved Approach to Community-based Nutrition in Turkana.
Al Mitchell, Vice President for Corporate Engagement for Bayer told a handover ceremony graced by government officials and community representatives: "The program will not only work to improve nutrition outcomes for pregnant women and new mothers, but also infants and young children by improving community-based nutrition and food availability."
"We are hoping to improve nutrition outcomes for thousands of Turkana County children under the age of five and their mothers through a sustainable educational awareness program," said Mitchell.
Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok, for his part, lauded the move, saying it would improve the lives of children in his jurisdiction and boost household food security.
He noted that 62% of households in his county were headed by women who are mostly dependent on livestock and pastoralism.
"With the climate change, livestock have been facing erratic weather change and dying from a lack of pasture," he said, adding that 64% of people in Turkana were food insecure and that the project would save many lives.
According to its organizers, the program will increase the capacity of health facilities to screen and treat children diagnosed with acute malnutrition, educate key community leaders and mothers on nutrition for long-term behavioral change, establish household and communal gardens, and ensure access to quality water through the restoration and construction of wells and boreholes.
According to a 2018 Country Nutrition Profile report by USAID, it is estimated that in 2010-2030 undernutrition will cost Kenya approximately $38.3 billion in GDP due to losses in workforce productivity.