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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces a Chaotic World and the Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid