Six weeks ago, a three-year-old boy’s desperately worried father brought him to the nutrition stabilization centre at the Hagadera refugee camp here in Dadaab, north-eastern Kenya. Like many children arriving at the UNICEF-supported facility, he was close to death – malnourished, dehydrated and suffering from respiratory infections. DADAAB, Kenya, 14 September 2011
VIDEO: UNICEF reports on the recovery of 3 year old Aden, a severly malnourished child in a Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya.
Aden’s journey to Hagadera had been painful. Accompanied by his parents and siblings, he had trekked from Somalia for 25 days. On that long journey, weakened by hunger and illness, his mother died.
Timothy Wachira is nutrition nurse who admitted Aden to the stabilization centre, which is run by the International Rescue Committee. “He was very wasted,” Mr. Wachira recalls. “He was very dehydrated and had complaints of vomiting, diarrhoea and a cough.”
A father’s bedside vigil
Despite the uncertain prognosis, Aden’s father, Abdile Mohammed, didn’t leave his son’s side. Instead, Mr. Mohammed stayed at the stabilization centre for four weeks while the medical staff and nutritionists went about treating the child. Day after day, they administered antibiotics, therapeutic milk and food – much of which came from medical and nutrition supplies provided by UNICEF.
Mr. Mohammed remembers that it was a long and difficult time. “I experienced hardship,” he says. “I was alone day and night. I didn’t even have clothes to cover him.”
After the month of treatment, Aden’s condition improved. In fact, his recovery was so successful that he was able to leave the centre. His family set up a new home amidst the tents and shelters that accommodate thousands of other Somali refugees in the area.
Life remains difficult, but Mr. Mohammed is thankful for his son’s survival. In photographs of Aden from those first days in the stabilization centre, he hardly recognizable as the smiling child who now runs around his father’s feet, never straying far from the man who willed him to survive.
Thousands arrive malnourished
It has been a long journey in so many ways, taken by Aden and countless other children as drought, insecurity and famine ravage southern and central Somalia.
Many of the children who make it as far as the refugee camps around Dadaab are malnourished; UNICEF and its partners estimate that some 16,000 children in the camps need nutritional support. Disease outbreaks – including measles and diarrhoea – are another major threat.
Yet every day, more refugees stream into the camps.
In the last month alone, in response to the continuing influx, UNICEF has provided therapeutic milk and food for more than 5,000 children like Aden in the stabilization centres in Dadaab. To accomplish this, the agency is working with IRC, the German development organization GIZ and other partners. UNICEF has also supported measles and pneumonia vaccinations, and is working with others to promote hygiene education.
Despite the difficulties they face, Aden’s father holds out hope for his children – hope that soon his they will go to school and, perhaps, that one day they can carry him as he carried them.