News / Africa

Study in CAR Links Mental Health and Malnutrition

A sick internally displaced Muslim girl sits next to her mother in a house in the town of Boda, April 15, 2014.
A sick internally displaced Muslim girl sits next to her mother in a house in the town of Boda, April 15, 2014.
Nick Long
Data collected at a hospital in the Central African Republic suggest that many parents of malnourished children have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the international aid group Action Against Hunger.  The group offers these parents psycho-social counseling in order to help the children recover.
 
Action Against Hunger treated 4,664 children with severe acute malnutrition in Bangui between last October and March. The NGO has data from interviews with about a thousand of those children’s parents.
 
The NGO says the data show that three-quarters of these parents were exposed to traumatic experiences and 60 percent described having symptoms suggestive of post-traumatic stress disorder, although they might not develop the condition.
 
It is known that young children whose parents have been exposed to severe trauma are at higher risk of developing malnutrition, but the high proportion of parents falling into that category in this case may come as a surprise to experts.
 
This kind of data has hardly ever been collected before in conflict zones, such as Bangui has been in recent months, so the links between violent trauma and malnutrition are not well documented.
 
Stephanie Duverger a psychologist who has studied the data, says that horrific experiences, fear and anguish often reduce parents' capacity to care for their children.
 
She told VOA about one father with a very young child whose wife had abandoned him, and whose neighborhood was attacked by rebels.
 
"So he had to escape, and on escaping and hiding in the jungle he saw a lot of dead bodies, the child also, and since then he said the child started losing his appetite completely and (he) himself, he became quite aggressive and he presented nearly all the post stress disorder symptoms," said Duverger.
 
The data collected from interviews also shows that 68 percent of the malnourished children had been refusing food.
 
Action Without Hunger is not suggesting that extreme poverty and lack of food are not the critical factors leading to malnutrition, but it is saying that young children often need emotional support as well as food in order to eat properly, and trauma can make it harder for parents to give that support.
 
Duverger says many parents the NGO counseled in Bangui had reacted roughly when their children had eating difficulties, and this may have made things worse.
 
"Also the study showed that lot of parents do not understand the symptoms as being a somatic [bodily] way to express distress.  They tend to think it’s a whim of the child, and they correct them quite violently in order to correct the symptoms which are in fact a way of saying help," she said.
 
Several parents VOA spoke to at the hospital said they hadn't understood why their children were not eating.
 
One mother had brought a six-year-old boy to the center, and Duverger says this boy initially screamed at any adult that approached him, including his mother.
 
The mother says that she gave the child food but he refused to eat, and sometimes he threw fits which she thought were just tantrums, so she started forcing him to eat.  But, she says, at the hospital she has learned that his fits were symptoms of stress as a result of what they had undergone after they had fled to the bush to escape violence.

Another mother with a child at the hospital had been exposed to extreme trauma.
 
She says that during the recent fighting her brother was killed in front of her, and fleeing to a displacement camp she saw lot of corpses, and so did the child, and those scenes keep coming back to her mind, and she thinks of the way they killed her brother.
 
She says that she had learned a lot at the hospital
 
Before coming here, she says, she thought malnutrition was simply because of lack of food, but here she has realized that in her child’s case it wasn’t just that - and that if a mother is depressed she can cause malnutrition in her child.  And another thing she has learned, she adds, is that playing with her child is also important for its healthy growth and development.

Duverger commented that it’s hard for many people to understand the importance of counseling in a conflict zone like the Central African Republic.
 
But other NGOs working here, including Save the Children and the medical NGO Emergency, told VOA they now want to include psycho-social counseling in their activities as they can see the need.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countriesi
X
December 16, 2014 2:14 PM
Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.
Video

Video Indonesian Province to Expand Sharia Law

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and a legal system based on Dutch civil law and Indonesian government regulations. But in a 2001 compromise with separatists, Aceh province in Sumatra island’s north was allowed to implement Sharia law. Since then, religious justice has become increasingly strict. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh.
Video

Video Some Russian Businesses Thrive in Poor Economy

Capital flight, the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions are pushing Russia's staggering economy into recession. But not companies are suffering. The ruble’s drop in value has benefited exporters as well as businesses targeting increasingly frugal customers. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

All About America

AppleAndroid