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Helping babies survive and thrive

Emergency care for the youngest residents in Kutapalong camp

Laila Begum and her children are whisked into the emergency tent at the Red Cross field hospital in Kutapalong camp.

They’ve already endured more than most of us can imagine. Laila’s village in Rakhine State was torched and burnt to the ground. She ran for her life, with her six-year-old daughter and newborn son, Mohammed.

“It took nine days to reach Bangladesh,” Laila says. “We slept on the road. We ate no food for four days and I became sick after drinking water from ponds.”

Mohammed is 40 days old and weighs just 1.7 kilograms, less than half the average birth weight of a healthy baby.

Malnutrition is a common problem here, according to Red Cross nurse Anne Fjeldberg. Crowded conditions and a lack of privacy force many women to opt for bottled milk instead of breastfeeding.

“Bottled milk will kill more children over time because water is not clean,” Anne explains.  “Water has to be boiled and the bottle has to be clean. Otherwise the children get diarrhoea and babies are dying.”

There are three ways to tackle this problem: emergency nutrition for kids like Mohammed; safe drinking water provided to families; and, most importantly, supporting mothers to breastfeed safely.

The next morning, Mohammed’s eyes are wide and attentive, and a smile flickers across his face as Laila strokes his cheek. The little boy has put on more than 700 grams weight in the past 12 hours, following successful breastfeeding. He’s also crying a lot more, Laila tells Anne.

Anne smiles. “In the past 24 hours, he has been more awake, alert and much better. I am so happy he is crying; that means he is strong.”