It may take some time before Maguindanao is rid of the stigma brought about by the politically motivated killings of November 2009.
Another issue that should eventually bring the province into a positive light is the work being done by Unicef in treating severe acute malnutrition in children under five years old.
Special advocate for children Daphne Oseña-Paez visited Maguindanao for the first time recently and saw first-hand the effects of severe acute malnutrition, which the World Health Organization defines as a case wherein a child has a very low height for weight ratio.
Paez went to one of the municipal hospitals that run Unicef’s Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program, which is also supported by Save the Children and Action Contre la Faim (ACF).
The program began as a response to a nutritional assessment that showed 10 percent of children under five years old in the area suffered from severe acute malnutrition.
Paez says the children enrolled in the program are given ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF). They are also given medicines while the parents undergo counseling.
“Without this program, up to 70 percent of kids with severe acute malnutrition can die,” says Paez. “But with it, 95 percent of them will live. This program is currently being done in Maguindanao only, and I was there to see the program and tell the story so that Unicef—through everyone’s support and donation—can do the same program nationwide. It takes only P600 a month to save the lives of three children.”
Paez met 7-month-old Datu Ali Solayman, who was suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
“He looks and feels like a newborn,” says Paez. “When I first saw him, I almost lost it because it’s a very emotional thing. I was holding Datu Ali’s feet, and they felt like my daughters’ when they were first born.”
Paez was present as Datu Ali was given the special RUTF. The young boy already showed encouraging signs of regaining his appetite.
Another baby, 3-month-old Rashid Mashud, was brought into the hospital after showing signs of breathing difficulties and diarrhea. They found out Rashid had not been gaining weight even after a month of being breastfed by his mother. When the mother started using infant formula, Rashid started to get sick.
“Breastfeeding was best for Rashid and his mother knew this,” Paez says. “But if a mother doesn’t get support from her husband and other family members, then it can be difficult for her to continue.”
Through https://donate.unicef.ph/regular-donation.php, donations can be made to help children suffering from malnutrition.
For a monthly donation of P600, one can save three children from severe acute malnutrition; P800 saves four; P1,000 can help supply five children with RUTF, vitamins and medicines for two months.
“It shocks you that there are children like this in the Philippines,” Paez says. “These are images you would expect to see in famine-stricken areas but there’s no famine here. But there is conflict, and there is displacement from natural disasters. I learned that malnutrition isn’t just a case of too little food. Environmental factors such as clean water and health services are important, as well as the knowledge and behavior of the mother.”