Meet Mercy. She's 14-years-old and she has spent the past month lying in a crib. Her Mother died, her depressed Father stopped feeding her and she became severely malnourished.
Her legs are like toothpicks and her knees knobby. When she held out her bony hand and grabbed mine, tears welled up in my eyes. But I pushed them back. Mercy has experienced enough pain. She didn't need to see mine.
The good news is that there's hope for Mercy. A volunteer healthcare worker found her and brought her to the Princess Marie Louise Hospital in Accra, Ghana. At the time, Mercy was so malnourished that she couldn't even speak. But if you were to visit her here in six weeks you'd find chubby cheeks gracing her now gaunt face. Mercy would actually look her age, not like an 8-year-old girl.
Princess Marie Louise Hospital is an 86-year-old institution that specifically treats malnourished children and what I saw on my visit with the ONE Campaign today was astonishing. In the area for the severely sick, the sight of rib cages protruding from the stomachs of children was harrowing. You couldn't help but worry, Will they make it?
They do make it. Through an international nutrition program developed by the World Health Organization, these kids recover in four to six weeks, nine max. I got to see some of these revived smiling babies with dimpled legs--proof that this program (funded by USAID, UNICEF and the local government) is effective and saving lives.
The hospital doesn't only nourish its children back to life. The staff nutritionists also train moms on how to feed their children a proper diet. They have foods on display to show moms what to cook with and feed their children: fruits, vegetables, eggs, huge snail shells, jars of millet, beans, seeds, maize, and rice.
Snails? "Yes, it's local and high in protein," Catherine Adu-Asore," a program manager told me.
In a tiny kitchen, a group of women were making an aromatic stew. One woman was on the floor mashing fresh tomatoes with a mortar and pestle; another was pounding cooked fish into a fine powder. There was a boiling pot of leafy greens on the stove and a steaming bowl of cooked yams in a strainer on the counter. The chefs were adding this all to the soup pot along with ground melon seeds, palm oil, and soft onions.
"We feed this to babies as young as six months old," one of the women told me. "It's pure nourishment." (I couldn't help but think about the "pathetic" jars of baby food I fed my kids as babies.)
The severely malnourished babies are also fed a homemade concoction of powdered whole milk, vitamins and minerals, and lots of fatty oil. I got to help one of the nutritionists whip up this concoction, and sample it. Yum! It actually tasted good and rich.
This all sounds wonderful but once moms return home with their children can they afford to buy the recommended foods to keep their kids healthy?
"The problem about malnutrition isn't about having the means to pay for it," Adu-Asore told me. "It's about knowing the right foods and combinations."
Thanks to the amazing medical team and volunteers at Princess Marie Louise Hospital many moms in Ghana are learning exactly what those foods and combinations are.
This week I'm traveling in Ghana with the ONE Campaign for the historic rollout of the rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines. I'll be popping anti-malarial pills, applying lots of insect repellent and sunscreen, and taking lots of photos and notes for blog posts. I hope you'll follow me on my journey on the BabyCenter Blog, the ONE.org/blog, and on Twitter @babyareamoms. Also, please join the ONE Moms movement.