Haiti: Malnutrition | Summary and Q&A

July 14, 2009
Harvard University
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Haiti: Malnutrition

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This video discusses the condition of kwashiorkor, which is protein malnutrition, in a two-year-old child. It covers the symptoms, treatment options, and the long-term effects of severe malnutrition.

Questions & Answers

Q: What are the typical signs of kwashiorkor?

The typical signs of kwashiorkor are swelling and edema in the body, particularly in the legs. This is caused by protein malnutrition and is often accompanied by hunger and starvation issues.

Q: How does kwashiorkor differ from marasmus?

Kwashiorkor and marasmus are both forms of severe malnutrition, but they differ in their physical presentation. Kwashiorkor is characterized by swelling and edema, while marasmus results in extreme thinness and wrinkly skin due to severe overall mass loss.

Q: What is the treatment for malnutrition?

The treatment for malnutrition involves providing highly caloric and nutritious food. One commonly used treatment is a ready-to-use therapeutic food called Nourimanba, which is a peanut-based paste. It is particularly effective for community-based therapy, as it can be given to children to be taken home and administered by their mothers.

Q: Why is the peanut-based paste treatment beneficial?

The peanut-based paste treatment works more quickly than milk-based treatments. It is highly caloric and nutritious, providing the necessary nutrients for recovery. Its effectiveness lies in its convenience and the ability to educate mothers on feeding their malnourished children throughout the day.

Q: Can all malnourished children be treated with the paste?

While the peanut-based paste treatment is suitable for community-based therapy, severely ill children still need to be admitted for more intensive care. However, once their condition stabilizes, they can also benefit from the paste treatment.

Q: What happens when malnourished children lose their appetite?

Severe malnutrition can cause children to lose their appetite. This appetite loss, combined with the physical swelling and edema experienced, can make it difficult for the child to tolerate the peanut-based paste treatment. In such cases, alternative treatments such as milk-based products are used until the child is able to tolerate the paste.

Q: Is malnutrition solely caused by a calorie deficit?

No, malnutrition in children is often a result of both a calorie deficit and a protein deficit. In the case discussed in the video, the child has a greater protein deficit than a deficit in other calories. Protein plays a crucial role in maintaining fluid balance in the bloodstream.

Q: What is the recommended treatment for severe malnutrition?

The recommended treatment for severe malnutrition includes highly nutritious food, antibiotics, and antiparasitic medication. The goal is to provide the necessary nutrients to aid recovery and combat infections or parasites that may exacerbate the condition.

Q: Can children fully recover from severe malnutrition?

Evidence suggests that children who experience severe malnutrition episodes may not fully recover. The timing of the malnutrition episode during a child's growth spurt can result in stunted growth and compromised mental development. The severity and frequency of the malnutrition episodes also impact the potential for full recovery.

Q: What can happen when a malnourished child is sent back home?

When a malnourished child is sent back home, their recovery largely depends on their home socio-economic situation. If the underlying issues that contribute to malnutrition, such as poverty or lack of access to nutritious food, are not addressed, the child's chances of sustained improvement are limited.


In summary, kwashiorkor is a form of protein malnutrition characterized by swelling and edema. Treatment involves providing highly nutritious food such as the peanut-based paste Nourimanba, along with antibiotics and antiparasitic medication. However, severe malnutrition episodes can have long-lasting effects on a child's growth and mental development. It is crucial to address the socio-economic factors contributing to malnutrition to ensure sustainable recovery for the child.

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