Friday, January 27, 2012

A Recap of My Nutrition Work in Haiti

Well, it's officially been 2.5 weeks since I have been home from Haiti. I figured it is about time that I release some information about the outcome of my nutrition experience in Haiti and the approach we have taken to enhance the overall health of the children and elderly we serve.

I'd first like to start out this blog post by thanking the Healing Haiti board and volunteers (especially the medical team, host family, and feeding center advocates), my uncle Jeff Gacek (the founder of Healing Haiti),  my family and friends, my school professors, my internship directors and fellow interns for all your continued support for my nutrition-related mission work in Haiti. Without any of this support and encouragement, I would not have been able to do so much in so few days! I would also like to thank the team at Meds & Food For Kids for their great costumer service and readiness to help me and support me with my mission in Haiti. I would like to thank Print 4 Change for purchasing the Medika Mamba supplements for the kids in Haiti; your organization is doing wonderful things to grow more good in Haiti... I love what you guys do!

I would also like to take this opportunity to give thanks to the most deserving of all praise and thanksgiving; my Father, God. Without His perfect plan, His never ending love and forgiveness, His power and His strength, I would not be able to do anything. For it is through Him, and through Him alone, I am strengthened to do His work.

Earlier this fall, I was sitting in the waiting room for a dentist appointment and looking through e-mails on my phone. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) sent out an e-mail with recent nutrition related articles from around the United States. One of the articles was about this peanut supplement used in Haiti that was saving lives of the malnourished babies. The article caught my attention and when I arrived at home I watched the video that talked about Meds & Food For Kids  and the outstanding work they are doing in Haiti.

 Meds & Food For Kids is based out of St. Louis, MO. However, they also have a factory in Haiti that is staffed with local Haitians, which means the organization is providing jobs and supporting the local people. So not only is Meds & Foods For Kids helping to reduce cases of malnutrition in Haiti's children with their peanut based nutrition supplement, it is also providing work for people in the local communities. Even more so, the organization is growing more good in Haiti by not only hiring locals to work for their factory, but by taking the efforts to work with local farmers to develop Haiti's peanut agriculture! Meds & Food For Kids is working with the farmers to increase their quality and yield of peanuts in order to meet the demands for the therapeutic food called Medika Mamba (which means peanut butter medicine in Creole).

A video about Meds & Food For Kids.

The mission of the organization captivated my interest, and I kept them in the back of my mind as a potential resource to use for Healing Haiti. About a month after stumbling across the Medika Mamba, I was asked to look into nutrition supplements for the underweight orphan kids sponsored by Healing Haiti . Immediately, I started doing my research and started looking for a Ready-To-Use- Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to help meet the nutritional needs of our kids. I started contacting people in my network (school professors, professional registered dietitians on LinkedIn, and others volunteers working with Healing Haiti's orphans) and the team at Meds & Foods For Kids. I started a list of potential supplements that we could use for our kids, as well as priced and analyzed the nutrition profile of our American supplements (pediasure, ensure, boost, and protein powders).  Even though I knew we could potentially get a supplement donation of American made supplements, something was tugging at my heart saying that the best option for our Haitian kids would be to use something that was produced in Haiti that was supporting the local people and agriculture. One question I keep active in the front of my mind is how can we do the most good for our Haitian family without making them completely dependent upon us as Americans. 

At the end of the day, the Medika Mamba produced by Meds & Foods for Kids was the product that stood out as the golden supplement.While it is traditionally used for infants and children 60 months to 5 years old, the nutrition profile of the supplement was ideal for the needs of our children and would add a significant amount of calories from fat and protein to aid in growth. The peanut based supplement provides 520 kcals, 26 grams of fat, 13 grams of protein, and a significant amount of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and iron per serving of Mamba. The supplement is composed of peanut butter (made from local peanuts), vegetable oil, skimmed milk, and a vitamin/ mineral powder that is formulated to prevent refeeding syndrome amongst malnourished/ undernourished children. 

While in Haiti, I traveled with two nurses that serve as Advocate Leaders for Healing Haiti's medical team and preformed over 95 nutrition assessments (79 orphans between the ages of 9 months and 17 years, and 16 elderly ranging in age from 27 to 103 years). I took the heights, weights, and arm circumferences of all the individuals, as well as examined their physical appearance to find any significant physical signs of nutrition related deficiencies. With the elderly population, I also did some speech pathology work to assess their lip and tongue muscle strength to identify potential issues with chewing and swallowing. 

 My make shift work space. 

 checking arm circumferences. 

 one of my youngest clients. 

 some very dry knees.. hopefully, more protein (with sources of B Vitamins) will help reduce the dry skin. 

 Dry, brittle, and discolored hair is one of the first things I look for when identifying malnutrition. 

 Very large abdomen either due to parasites or protein-calorie malnutrition. 

 This girl had very little muscle or fat pad. 

 Checking out the gums, teeth, and tongue for  signs of nutritional deficiencies. 

After each day of work, I plotted all of the children on The WHO Child Growth Charts so that we could see where our kids were falling in comparison to the world's standard. While each kid will follow their own pattern of growth, there are several red flags to look for in abnormal growth patterns; delayed growth, stunting, and significant low body weight for age and height. The reason low body weight for age and height is such a concern is that it can cause problems such as decreased immunity, delayed wound healing, poor brain development and cognitive functioning, mood alterations, and early death. 

After completing each child's growth chart and reviewing some of the nutrition-related physical signs, I compiled a list of kids that would need extra nutrition support to catch up on their growth and/or gain weight. Twenty kids at Grace Village and fifteen kids at our other orphanage were a significant low body weight for their height and age and/or had low arm circumferences that indicated poor body fat and muscle for their age. I also used physical symptoms such as discolored hair, extremely dry skin, and appearance of fat/muscle pads to confirm my decisions of which kids were in need of extra nutrition support. In addition to starting these kids on the Medika Mamba supplement, I worked with feeding center at Grace Village to help them provide meals for the kids that would be prepared with foods higher in protein, whole grains, Vitamin A (beta-cartoein), Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium (all which are necessary for the normal growth and immunity of the kids). I made lists of foods that were produced locally in Haiti that would be high in each nutrient so that they could refer to the list when going to the market and preparing meals. 

I am happy to report that the 20 kids at Grace Village have started their Medika Mamba supplement this week. They will be on this supplement for a 4 week period, and then we will assess their growth status to see if the additional calories have aided in weight gain and overall growth.  I am also excited to watch how the overall health of the children at Grace Village will be enhanced as they began to receive the proper nutrients for normal growth and development, as well as receive clean drinking water. 

I am truly blessed to be able to use my nutrition-related knowledge to grow the good in Haiti. I continually thank God for the opportunities He has given me to use my talents to serve others, for none of this would have been possible without His strength and His blessings. I pray that God will continue to use me to serve those living in dire conditions to help them receive access to safe and nutritious foods. I pray that God will give me the courage and opportunity to take my skills and knowledge to the slums of Cite Soleil, where I have seen kids with significant nutritional deficiencies, wasting conditions, and weakened immunities. Only by the grace and protection of God will I be able to conquer this initiative. 

 Lunch at Grace Village. 

 I recommended they eat more peanut butter-- good source of protein and fat. 

 I was very excited to see that they listened to be recommendations and purchased Extra Fancy Wheat Flour... hopefully, we can work towards getting some oatmeal and whole grains. 

 Lunch on the stove in the Grace Village Kitchen. 

 Some of the girls dinning in the new feeding center. 

Little cuties visiting me after lunch! 


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  2. hey! So amazing what you did in Haiti! interests me so much, wondering how you got involved with the nutrition there and how I could maybe get involved! Loved your post and all the stories! keep shining your light :)
    Steph Landheer