Using physiotherapy to treat the consequences of child malnutrition in Mali
Soumana Almouner Touré has worked for Handicap International since 2013. Originally from Gao, he coordinates the ESSPOIR project’s activities in Mali. He talked to us about the project, which helps malnourished children recover from developmental delays in three West African countries - Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger - by providing them with physiotherapy and teaching parents to stimulate their children.
Soumana Almouner Touré, in charge of the ESSPOIR project's activities in Mali. | © Benoit Almeras/Handicap International
Why was the ESSPOIR project launched?
The project primarily aims at reducing the impact of malnutrition in children under the age of five. Malnourished children have a low weight-for-height, associated with severe malnutrition. In my country, Mali, one child in seven suffers from malnutrition.
Malnourished children are too often treated through remedial nutrition only: they are given nutritional supplements like concentrated peanut butter to help them gain weight.
But malnutrition has other serious consequences: very often, malnourished children don’t move or don’t express themselves as well as children with regular growth. They are underdeveloped for their age.
ESSPOIR works on these less visible consequences of malnutrition in children. Using physiotherapy and stimulation, we help them recover from their development delays.
What does the project do?
In 2013, Handicap International launched its initial project to care-manage young malnourished children in Mali by providing them with physiotherapy and stimulation. We realised that by using basic techniques [such as ball games and light stretching], children were able to recover from their developmental delays, especially in terms of their mobility and posture.
The ESSPOIR project covers a larger geographic area and more activities than the first project. It is now run in three countries: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. It also aims at improving malnourished children’s communication abilities, particularly by building closer relationships with their parents.
In practical terms, we help parents through discussion groups, training, etc. This psychological support encourages them to get closer to their children, to play with them and to give them hugs. This stimulates the children.
What do you hope to achieve?
Our goal is to help people understand the importance of physiotherapy and stimulation in the care-management of malnourished children.
In Mali, we’ve begun working in various regions covered by the project. We’ve already achieved some positive results because the children who receive care have recovered from their developmental delays. That’s very encouraging.
Over time we want to improve the condition of 9,200 children in Mali and help their parents, particularly by setting up networks of community coordinators.
We’re optimistic that the support techniques developed by Handicap International can be extended to other areas affected by malnutrition.
The ESSPOIR project is supported by the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry for Development Cooperation.