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Struggle for life: The story of young Juma

Juma's story


Treating young children suffering with severe malnutrition in Burundi

A struggle for life

Critically ill|Lifesaving care|Survival

Baby Juma in his hospital bed

When he arrived at the hospital, 10-month-old Juma was severely malnourished and had digestive problems that left him unable to excrete waste.

His mother was too afraid to give him anything to eat because his belly was so swollen and he needed urgent help. Juma began his treatment in the paediatric ward of Rumonge Hospital in a critical condition. It was just one week later that International Medical Corps opened a stabilisation centre to provide lifesaving support to malnourished children, funded by the European Commission.

Neighbours came to bury Juma

Juma was immediately transferred to the new stabilisation centre, the very first child to be admitted. His mother hoped he would now have a chance at survival.

The same day, their neighbours came to the hospital to bury Juma because they had heard that he had died and his mother needed help carrying his body to the village. When they found Juma was still alive, but very weak, they advised his mother she should come home with them, saying that he wouldn’t make it through the week and there was no need wasting time and money on treatment for such a sick baby. Despite her neighbour’s dismal advice, Juma’s mother listened to the doctors at the centre who advised her to stay. She wouldn’t give up on her son. The nurses and doctors began treatment to save Juma’s life, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Juma was not only severely weak and malnourished, but had cerebral malaria.

After a week of treatment, Juma began his slow recovery. Day after day, his health improved and after two weeks he had gained weight, his appetite was restored and the medical complications had been resolved, an unbelievable sight for his mother.

This wasn’t to be the end of his journey. Juma stayed for two months in an outpatient therapeutic programme at Birimba Health Centre. While he was treated there, his mother was given information on feeding, hygiene and sanitation, to keep her young son healthy in the future. The team also visited their home to check on his progress, along with a community health worker.

A chance at survival

Juma and his mother after he received successful treatment

His parents were so grateful to the health promoters in their community who had convinced them to take Juma from their health centre to Rumonge Hospital and to the International Medical Corps staff who supported him throughout his recovery. If they had not gone to Rumonge, it was unlikely he would have had this chance to survive.

For their community in Bururi District, many of whom didn’t believe Juma would survive, they learned that while severe malnutrition is extremely serious, if properly supported, it can be managed and treated. Children like Juma can be healthy and happy again.

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