Success can be measured in grams

by Juliane Grünzner,  2010/06/22

For several weeks the couple Juliane and Stefan Grünzner have been working for humedica in Niger. Due to the famine and the nigh number of undernourished persons caused by it, the work of the paediatrician was absolutely priceless. In the following report, Juliane Grünzner will give an impressive description of how touching and important each step – no matter how small - is when fighting malnutrition.

Juliane and Stefan Grünzner (right) have been welcomed to Kollo like members of a large family. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg

“My husband Stefan and I spent almost three weeks in Niger. From the very beginning I was deeply impressed by the hospitality and open-mindedness of the people in this country. Everything is shared among the people – no matter how scarce it is. And this is true even despite the famine which is clearly spreading in the country.

Since this was my first medical employment in Africa, I was at first surprised – despite all the warnings – that it is actually true that one in two children coming to our hospital suffers from malaria. This disease can be easily diagnosed by merely looking at the patients, who suffer from high temperature and numerous mosquito bites.

However, what touched me most, was the sight of the large number of under- and malnourished children who had to be treated at the hospital as a consequence of the current famine. Unfortunately I am not talking about single cases when describing two-year-old children weighing as little as six-month-old infants. When seeing these children it seems a miracle that they could survive at all for so long.

Help for little Idé

The first little “nutrition patient” I treated was Idé, an infant of barely three months who had hardly grown any heavier since birth. The mother told me that she nursed the child almost all day long, but could not provide enough milk for sufficient nutrition.

Due to suffering from malnutrition herself, Idé’s mother could not provide enough milk for her baby son. The little boy recovered thanks to supplementary infant milk. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg.

Therefore we decided to supplement Idé’s diet by means of additional infant food. Unfortunately, the situation in Niger cannot be compared to Germany where you can simply buy infant formulas at the supermarket and prepare them comfortably at home.

In Niger, mothers need at first to be told basic rules of hygiene. This happens in the framework of special trainings at the humedica hospital, which comprise everything from washing hands via preparing the formula to sterilising the baby bottles.

Since it takes some of the women three hours to walk from their homes to the hospital, this means an immense effort for them, but for their children’s health they accept this effort without complaints and full of gratitude.

I enjoy thinking back to the moment when we offered little Idé his first bottle of infant milk. He hastily drank a substantial share of it. His mother had used to look very serious up to this point, but this was the first time when I saw a bright smile lighting up her face.

I will never forget this sudden relief and her gratitude. And Idé? Instead of immediately falling asleep satisfied and with a full belly, the little boy suddenly seemed to find new strength.

The same child who had lain in his mother’s arms lethargically now looked at us with big round eyes, gurgled, played with his hands and got interested in his surroundings. Seeing this happen was one of the most wonderful moments I have experienced here.

Each child is worth it

I know that there is an alarmingly large number of children suffering the same fate and that we can only help very few of them. However, when seeing for myself what we can do in individual cases, every step – no matter how small – seems important. Every single child is worth it!

Our daily successes can be measured in grams. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg

I hope that, apart from the imminent inauguration of the new hospital wing at which we will be able to treat also the most serious cases of undernourished children, also our “milk project” for infant formulas will establish itself and receive financial support.

Demand for this infant food will increase further due to the famine which also prevents nursing mothers from eating enough themselves. Even during my stay in Niger we treated numerous children like little Idé, who will have to be fed infant milk at least temporarily until they can be fed solid food.

I have seen and learned a lot in Niger and I experienced several wonderful and also very sad moments. But I have learned how relief can be offered by means of small but essential things in order to contribute to the children’s normal and healthy development.”

Dear friends and sponsors of humedica: please support our relief projects in Niger by means of a targeted donation in particular during the current life-threatening famine.
      humedica e.V.
      Reference "Niger"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Please also donate online for those people in Niger who are affected by the famine or contribute to our work by means of a text message:
send DOC to the abbreviated dialling +49 8 11 90 and support us with a one-time donation of 5 Euros, with 4.83 Euros of this amount being directly channelled into the humedica project work. Thank you very much.

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