Child nutrition: day three in Togo

Blog Co-operative Pharmacy manager Padriag McGuiness tells of his trip to a local health clinic in Togo and describes how the UNICEF funded nutritional programme is helping to make a difference in his latest blog post

These early morning starts seem to be getting earlier and earlier – this morning was 5.30am. After more porridge and sweet coffee we met with the governor and the regional minister for planning, who were realistic about the challenges facing their communities. They were, however, grateful for our support in assisting communities to make real changes for themselves, without the need for central support. Our next stop was the local health clinic where we were met by a nurse chasing a chicken out of the maternity ward! This summed up the visit for me; the centre was doing so much with so few resources. It was interesting for John and I to try to draw comparisons with healthcare back in the UK – let's just say there are none. It was also inspirational to meet the medical director, who was the same age as me and running a healthcare centre of 17 staff, serving a community of 15,000 patients, after just three years of healthcare training. After a quick shot at dispensing in the healthcare centre's pharmacy, we set off for what turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip so far. We visited a nutritional programme that is funded by UNICEF and monitors infants' nutrition in rural areas, which, as you can imagine, is a real problem here. By using body mass index and upper arm circumference, children are assessed as to their need for nutritional support. We chatted with some of the mothers, who are all really engaged in the programme. They were keen to highlight that without the programme their children would not have survived. Indeed, this improvement in wellbeing was evident among all the kids, who were bouncing and happy, so much so that they went on to thrash me at football - both in fitness and in skill. The Adebayors of the future! Quite a contrast to the infants we met at the next nutrition centre, which was run by a Spanish nun who has worked there for 20 years. Here we saw mothers and infants being cared for following severe malnutrition, only a month or so into their treatment. Although it was really distressing to see that infants could have got this sick and weak, it was positive to hear from the mums about how this centre is helping them with the care and nutrition needed, simply through provision of a therapeutic peanut paste by UNICEF. The paste contains 500 calories per sachet and is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, which allows the infants to make a quick recovery within 28 days. A lifesaver for only £25, it puts the cost of healthcare into perspective.   On the way home we stopped in to visit Mrs Yuki, who was trained by UNICEF to prepare materials for pre-school kids. In the space of a few minutes, my French improved dramatically with a few simple pictures and words! Her enthusiasm was astounding.   Tonight, we're all sat round the table for our last meal together, talking about the extraordinary things we've seen over the past few days. But it's not over yet. Tomorrow we visit another community that is benefiting from our support. From there it's back to Lomé. Having experienced it on the way up, I'm not looking forward to the six-hour dirt track trip in the back of a 4x4.  Around here they call it the Togo massage!

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