Child Malnutrition: Philippines’ Silent Emergency

Child malnutrition has been described as a silent emergency affecting Filipino children.

Dr. Ira Bisuna, a doctor and health care provider in Presentacion, Camarines Sur speaking with ADRA at a three-day training on severe acute malnutrition, said malnourished children were neglected and the country’s malnutrition strategy could reverse this trend.

Dr. Bisuna was one of the medical professionals participating in the EMBRACE Project-sponsored training on severe acute malnutrition (SAM) for health care leaders within the four communities of the EMBRACE project in the Philippines. The training aimed to tackle a serious and heartbreaking issue within health care – preventing the deaths of severely malnourished children under five across the province.

The health professionals included doctors, midwives, and nurses looking to advance their skills and knowledge on malnutrition, and to find ways to apply this knowledge to their respective communities. Topics presented centered on the Philippine Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (PIMAM) which promotes the importance of encouraging breastfeeding and managing the difficult task of admitting young children into advanced care.

“Malnutrition is often seen as the silent emergency, as it is happening around us fairly quietly, and can take a while before we realize the level of malnutrition we are dealing with.” Said Dr. Bisuna

The Philippine chronic malnutrition rate among children aged 0-2 was at 26.2%, the highest in 10 years, according to a 2015 survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).  The same report placed chronic malnutrition, or stunting rate for children under 5 years old, at 33.5%.

“For my municipality alone, we have a lot of cases of severe acute malnutrition, and I really don’t know how to manage them, we just weigh them, and look at them, without any intervention. Presentacion is among the top ten of malnourished municipalities in Camarines Sur.”

Dr. Bisuna continued, “One thing that stood out to me was the importance of institutionalizing measures to prevent malnutrition – because we don’t want repeat cases of SAM. We can do the treatment, the critical care, but what is really more important in terms of the public, is the prevention aspect.”

“One of the silent emergencies we have here in the Philippines is malnutrition. As we see in the context of the Philippines, the malnourished child is being neglected. PIMAM plays a significant role in managing that emergency.”

ADRA is responding to the child malnutrition crisis in the Philippines through the EMBRACE Project.  The Project, implemented with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada aims to contribute towards ending preventable maternal and child deaths in the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and Rwanda.

Participants at the recent EMBRACE-sponsored SAM training in the Philippines

The project will save the lives of mothers and children by improving access to quality health services as well as supporting better nutrition for women, children and families.

Story by Jordan Venton-Rublee, Technical Communications Coordinator volunteer based in the field in Camarines Sur, Philippines.