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Back to Basics – the life-saving importance of good nutrition

Steoroth* is 13-months old and lives with her grandmother in a village 10km outside of Siem Reap town. For the last 10 months, her parents have been away in Thailand working. Steoroth’s grandmother is very poor and has not heard from the child’s parents since they left. She cannot afford to buy baby food and had been feeding Steoroth almost exclusively with watery porridge.

Over time Steoroth developed Kwashiorkor – a life threatening and debilitating form of malnutrition – because she lacked proper protein in her diet.

Children affected by kwashiorkor recover fully if they are treated early. Treatment involves introducing extra calories and protein into the diet. Children who develop kwashiorkor may not grow or develop properly and may remain stunted for the rest of their lives. There can be serious complications when treatment is delayed, including coma, shock, and permanent mental and physical disabilities.

Steoroth developed a poor appetite, skin infections and general oedema. Her grandmother had no idea what the problem was with Steoroth’s health and at first consulted a local pharmacist. But as Steoroth’s health continued to deteriorate, her grandmother became more and more concerned. Her grandmother decided to travel to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Hospital for Children after hearing about the free health care service from her neighbours. On arrival, Steoroth was referred to our nutrition experts and immediately admitted her for urgent care.

Steoroth stayed with us at AHC for 35 days to receive the medical treatment and care she desperately needed, whilst her grandmother simultaneously received nutrition education and counselling. The underlying cause of her sickness was malnutrition and Steoroth was treated with therapeutic feeding, micronutrients and antibiotics to treat her skin condition. Doctors saw improvements daily and after her skin infection and oedema had dissipated and her appetite returned, they discharged her. The AHC Homecare team will continue follow-up with Steoroth and her grandmother at their home in the future by reinforcing the nutritional counselling and doing regular home checks to ensure that she is getting the required nutrients for growth, and is developing well.

AHC believes in prevention first – and working with caretakers and community members is the best way to prevent childhood illness. Many of our patients are treated for diseases that, with proper hygiene and nutrition, are completely preventable. Community outreach and engagement is essential to ensure that people are equipped with the appropriate basic health information to ensure that their children can develop normally and reach their full potential.

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