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Amidst a drought, a routine service saves children’s lives

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Sitting on the steps of the Arara Kidanemeheret Health Post in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, Belay Munaye is nursing her one-year-old twins while waiting to receive their monthly food support. She named her twin boys Tarik and Misgan, meaning ‘history made’ and ‘thankfulness’ to remind herself of the miracle of twin birth and her gratefulness for surviving it. Belay says she is even more thankful that her children have survived in these trying times of drought and food shortage. She suspects that she might have lost at least one of them if it had not been for the intervention of the health workers of Arara Kidanemeheret Kebele.

These health workers are among thousands employed as part of the nationwide Health Extension Programme, a community-based program that brings basic health services to the doorstep of Ethiopia’s large, rural population. They bring closer contact between communities and health services and importantly, they also mobilize communities to change behaviors. They saw the twins during one of their regular house visits, noticed the infants were severely malnourished and asked Belay to bring the twins to the health post immediately.

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Belay Munaye and her twins, Misgan and Tarik, ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Nahom Tesfaye

She heeded their advice and after the twins received the necessary treatment, which included medicine and therapeutic food for several weeks, they both regained their health and reached a healthy weight.

Belay’s village, Gorosherafit, is one of the villages in the Arara Kidanemeheret Kebele of East Gojjam Zone. Though Gojjam is one of the most productive parts of the Amhara Region, known for its surplus production of the staple crop teff, its eastern part has been hit by a drought driven by the El Niño weather pattern. “Our land has barely seen rain in the last two years and after running out of all other resources, we are now surviving solely on the 15 kg of grain we receive every month from the Government,” elaborates Belay.

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Arago Nemano Kabele, Shalla Woreda, West Arsi Zone. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Across the country, 458,000 children are expected to need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2016. More broadly, 10.2 million people, 6 million of them children, are in need of emergency food assistance due to the drought. UNICEF continues to coordinate the nutrition emergency response, provide supplies for the management of severe acute malnutrition and support the treatment of malnourished children through community-based management of acute malnutrition, along with training, quality assurance and monitoring the nutrition emergency response. UNICEF is also supporting efforts to provide drought-affected communities with access to clean water and health services to address major causes of child illnesses and deaths that have been made worse by the drought. It’s essential work, work that is ensuring Tarik and Misgan will go on to fulfil their beautiful names – to make history and be thankful for the great love and sacrifice of their mother.

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Mundene, 21, is screened for malnutrition as she cradles her two-month-old baby Melesech at the Gedebe Health Post in Halaba Special Woreda (district) in SNNP Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

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