Managing acute malnutrition in infants aged less than six months: a qualitative assessment in Niger public hospitals
Quality management of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in infants < 6 months of age is a key strategy within the “1000 days window of opportunity”. It prevents early child death, secures optimal growth and forms a foundation for full adulthood potentials. Most studies to date on management of SAM in infants relied on informants from Non-Governmental Organizations staff or government public health officials but little is known from hospital practitioners. From June to August 2013, a qualitative appraisal of hospital practitioners’ views on the current quality of care for malnourished infants was conducted in the eight main hospitals of Niger. These eight hospitals included two National Referral Hospitals (Lamordé and Zinder) and six Regional Referral Hospitals (Poudrière, Dosso, Tahoua, Maradi, Diffa and Agadez). Authorization for the review was given by the Ministry of Health of Niger. Health workers (HW) present during surveyors’ visits were included in the study. Two (2) specific objectives were considered: 1) Determine HW perceptions and current use of the Supplemental Suckling Technique (SST) and 2) Collect HW propositions on feasibility to organize outpatient treatment of SAM in infants less than six months. Self-designed interview guide was used. Data were analysed manually and saturation in the occurrence of responses were the criteria used to retain items. The Supplemental Suckling Technique (SST), though firmly recommended by national guidelines to ensure continuation of breastfeeding and adequate nutrients intake from supplemental milks especially in a small infant, was rarely used. Main reasons advanced by staff were work overload, inadequate training, and lack of compliance from mothers. Before being discharged from hospital, mothers were counseled on continuation of treatment, follow up visits at peripheral health center (PHC) and feeding options at home. However, hospital staff had no indication whether mothers were seen at the referred PHC, nor if counseling was practiced at home. The proposed outpatient treatment model for selected cases without medical complications should relieve hospital caseloads, strengthen referral and improve breastfeeding support to mothers after discharge from hospital.
Keywords: Malnutrition, infant feeding, inpatient treatment, qualitative assessment, Niger
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