12 May 2024 - Congo (Kinshasa)

At the forefront of the hunger crisis in the DRC - A paediatric nurse's account

Jean Claude checks over Soli, 12 months old, in a hospital in the DRC

Jean Claude* checks over Soli*, 12 months with mother Gbala*, 32 in a Save the Children- supported hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Patou Dombi / Save the Children

When I dreamed of becoming a paediatric nurse, I never dreamed I would have to help so many children with malnutrition, something no child should ever have to face.

Malnutrition is a real problem here in the community. Food is in short supply, and food is no longer available in households made up mainly of displaced people.

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These people, who were originally farmers, had to flee their villages and settle in makeshift homes. Where they find themselves with nothing to eat and no way to earn money. This has a severe impact on their children.

Support to help these children is an immediate emergency. Since April 2023, the number of cases has been increasing. I can treat an average of 25 patients a day. Hunger affects children in two ways, both physically and mentally. Their ability to focus and learn is reduced, as is their health and growth.

The malnourished children who arrive here are in a very critical state. They have discoloured hair from lack of nutrients, they have swelling on their back and feet, they are very thin with severe weakness and skin rashes. Others have a lot of diarrhoea and their weight is low. The effects can be deadly for their organs - death caused by anaemia or dehydration.

Seeing all these sick children, my heart hurts a lot.

My choice to become a paediatric nurse is the fruit of a dream I've had since childhood. When I was growing up, I had an elder in my neighborhood who did this job. He would always tell me that he was there to serve the population, and he would leave every morning with the aim of saving lives. I was inspired by his sense of duty, and that made me decide to do this job.

We work with partners such as Save the Children. When a family is here, the organization takes charge of feeding the infant and the parent staying with them in hospital. On the day they are well enough to return home, the organization also provides them with a subsidy for transport from the hospital to their home.

When necessary, Save the Children also supplies donations of essential medicines.

A malnourished child can take an average of seven days of intense treatment. I cared for a five-year-old girl who arrived here with generalized oedema [swelling caused by excess fluid in the body] acute weakness and body aches. We treated this child for at least 21 days. Her condition didn't seem to evolve at first, but thank God, towards the end, she was cured.

There were days when the child would sink into intense weakness and go into a coma each time, but we did everything we could until the child came back to life.

I feel a sense of joy when I see a child recovering from a form of acute malnutrition. The lesson we learned from this case is how quickly we can take charge, how courageous we can be, and how flexible we can be in the way we carry out medical procedures in an urgent case like this little girl's. It's a lesson we'll never forget.

The hospital still needs a lot of supplies and more children are arriving every day. We worry that there will be a breakdown of supplies in what we received in paediatrics, which would result in children dying. 

To find a solution to this situation, we need to combine our efforts on all fronts, and your support will help us do this. We must never lose hope and always see our efforts through to the end.

Together we can end hunger. Donate now to support essential workers like Jean-Claude who work tiredlesly to care for children suffering acute malnutrition in countries like the DRC. 

We stand side by side with children in the world's toughest places.