Without a trained eye, malnutrition can be easily overlooked, especially in North Kivu. Caloric intake is not the most pressing nutritional concern here; instead persistent protein deficiency causes many children to develop and often die from kwashiorkor, otherwise known as oedematous malnutrition.
Kwashiorkor is a confounding factor in nutritional surveys because it causes a child to retain fluids throughout the body leading to deceiving weight-for-height and weight-for age results. Leading the fight against malnutrition in Butembo are two hospitals- Katawa Hospital and Université Catholique du Graben’s (UCG) hospital. Both provide three-week rehabilitation to children and mothers but the hospitals limited capacity cannot address Butembo’s nutritional nightmare.
The struggle to acquire sufficient nutrition is faced by a vast majority of Congolese in North Kivu. The diets of many Congolese here rely heavily on cassava, bananas and fruit.
UCG’s agricultural department is attempting to address one of the roots of malnutrition by developing protein rich varieties of soya and improving breeding techniques for rabbits and guinea pigs but this research is still in early stages. The immediate future looks bleak but researchers, NGO’s and mothers remain hopeful.