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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
11 June 2024

A day with a health worker in the Konso zone

A closer look at the treatment of a malnourished child in southern Ethiopia 

Like the rest of the country, the Konso zone in the South Ethiopia regional state recently experienced conflict, displacement, and drought, all happening at the same time. It has been difficult for women and children to cope with all these crises, and malnutrition has sharply increased in the zone. 

The livelihood of the hard-working farming community of the Konso is tested to the limits. Since the onset of the crisis, the EU’s humanitarian partner UNICEF is supporting health workers providing lifesaving nutrition services. 

We followed Ajuna Afarta, one of the dedicated community health workers, in her daily routine treating a malnourished child.  

Ajuna Afarta standing up surrounded with people sitting outside. In the back is the Buso health building.
© UNICEF Ethiopia (photographer: Demissew Bizuwerk)

It's early morning at Buso health post and community health worker Ajuna Afarta gives a valuable lesson on child health and good feeding practices. Pregnant women and mothers with little children gather around and listen to her explanations. As she takes them through the illustrations on a big flip chart, the women sometimes interrupt her to ask questions. 

Before she moves to the next lesson, she does a short recap and checks if they understood what they were taught and if there are any questions.  

A health worker checking a child which is hold by the mother who is seated on a chair.
© UNICEF Ethiopia (photographer: Demissew Bizuwerk)

After the lessons, she starts screening children to check their nutrition status. It doesn’t take long before she finds out that 8-month-old Michael Kusa is severely malnourished.

“The household farming land is small in Konso,” she says. “Good harvests donot come easily. When the drought persisted, it made life difficult. People were also displaced by the conflict. We are observing a spike in Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) cases because of this. We have now 26 children in the Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP). Before the drought, we only had 6 to 7 children.”

“The past 3 years have been difficult for us,” Kasasa Giloya, Michael’s mother, adds. “We only had a small sorghum harvest last year. I was not able to feed my child properly. Then, my son started to get sick.”

A hand holding a cup containing a medicine tablet.
© UNICEF Ethiopia (photographer: Demissew Bizuwerk)

After the step-by-step checkups, Ajuna prepares an antibiotic tablet and dissolves it in water so that Michael can drink it easily. 

“That helps him fight the infection,” she says. “I am administering this treatment because children with malnutrition can easily get sick.”

2 hands holding and massaging a childs feet.
© UNICEF Ethiopia (photographer: Demissew Bizuwerk)

Ajuna also gently presses and releases her fingers on the dorsum of Michael’s feet. She repeats the procedure a few times. When she notices that there is no pitting on the child’s feet, she rules out oedema, a condition which makes swelling of legs in children with SAM. 

Then she puts Michael’s name on the OTP card for further follow up. But Ajuna’s job is not done yet. She takes few more minutes to counsel Kasasa on how to make nutritious food for her child with locally available food items and to continue breastfeeding him. She also advised the mother that her son needs special care as he is susceptible to infection. 

Finally, Ajuna feeds Michael ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) that will help him recover and regain his strength soon. She also gave his mother more sachets of RUTF that he needs to eat in the coming days.

Ajuna together with the mother and child (seated) next to a table with a box containing therapeutic food.
© UNICEF Ethiopia (photographer: Demissew Bizuwerk)

After taking the medication and the therapeutic food, Michael falls asleep peacefully in his mother’s arms. He is expected to be back in a week’s time for further follow up. The good thing is that he has no further complications, and he will recover soon.

In 2024, the EU allocated €43.1 million in humanitarian aid for Ethiopia to provide life-saving assistance to vulnerable populations. 

Through its humanitarian actions, the EU is supporting the provision of (i) protection, (ii) food aid, (iii) access to clean water and hygiene, (iv) shelter, (v) basic essential items, (vi) nutritional assistance, (vii) health care, (viii) disease prevention and access to primary health care, and (IX) education and protection for children caught up in humanitarian crises.

  • Unicef logo

    Story by Demissew Bizuwerk and Lelena Mesfin, UNICEF Ethiopia
    Photos: Demissew Bizuwerk, UNICEF Ethiopia

    Publication date: 11/06/2024