Before and After Kwashiorkor Treatment in Haiti

Only a small minority of people are able to stop and consider the suffering of others, especially children. You are such a person. The clinic Abandoned Children’s Fund supports in in Cazale, Haiti, receives around 200 children a year who are in various stages of a form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor. Often a parent will carry a child all night from the highlands down to the clinic to deliver a baby whose health condition has deteriorated to a stage where if immediate medical care is not applied the child would die. A few photographs are selectively chosen to demonstrate the condition of these children before and after they are brought to the clinic and after they have been treated. I apologize if some of these photos are graphic in nature, they are by no means the most explicit or shocking examples available, but I take the risk of upsetting some of the more sensitive readers as these examples illustrate the wonderful work being done in the clinic.

Madeline addmitted       Madeline after treatment

This is Madeline when she was delivered to the clinic suffering from a sever case of kwashiorkor, before being treated with nutritional supplements, and after her recovery when she was released back to her family. it doesn’t take a trained medical professional to tell Madeline is in need of immediate attention in her first picture.

Kwashiorkor is the name for a protein-calorie malnutrition. It’s a nutritional disorder of children that occurs after a baby is weaned from the breast that is most common among children living in deprived circumstances. Treatment takes the form of gradually improving and balancing the diet. With early treatment the prognosis is good, but stunted growth is common. The name “kwashiorkor” is said to come from West Africa and means “deposed child”. If treated promptly, the prognosis is good, but many patients have stunted physical development. Very underweight children with kwashiorkor are known as marasmic-kwashiorkor. Prevention of kwashiorkor can only be assured through a change in the living conditions of the child and the community.


Kwashiorkor is essentially a disease of poor socio-economic conditions. The most commonly accepted cause of kwashiorkor is a low-protein and inadequate energy (calorie) diet, together with a lack of other nutrients. Breastfed babies, even those living in impoverished communities; usually receive sufficient amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat and other nutrients such as vitamins in the breast milk. When the child is weaned to an inadequate diet, kwashiorkor may develop. The situation is exacerbated where disease is rife and sanitation is poor.


Children living in overcrowded, poverty-stricken conditions are most at risk of developing kwashiorkor, especially if: they have recently stopped breastfeeding and their diet consists largely of carbohydrates, living conditions are unhygienic, conditions in which food is stored or prepared are unhygienic allowing it to become contaminated with fungi, conditions which encourage the growth and spread of mold’s or fungi, there are frequent outbreaks of disease in the community, the child’s immune system is low due to starvation or disease, diarrhea and dehydration are present.


The early symptoms of kwashiorkor are fairly non-specific. They are underweight for age. An affected child may at first appear tired, irritable and disinterested in play. The child fails to grow and loses muscle mass. As deprivation continues, the child’s legs and body swell up due to the accumulation of fluid (edema) in the tissues. A “pot-belly” develops because of lax abdominal muscles and, in some cases, an enlarged liver. The hair becomes sparse, brittle and develops a reddish hue. In severe cases patches of the skin will slough off leaving oozing sores rather like a burn wound. They are often anemic and have heavy worm infestations. Diarrheal disease is a frequent presentation. Because of impaired immunity these children are also prone to infections such as tuberculosis and septicemia. Final symptoms may include coma or shock. If a child goes untreated they will die.


The treatment of choice for the children who come into the clinic is a specially manufactured high protein liquid formula that is introduced into the child’s digestion system. It may be necessary to place a child on an IV to hydrate them and if in some worse case scenarios the child is near death or in a coma rehydration and manually ingesting the formula into their system will begin to restore the desperately needed protein calories they need. Thanks to the generosity of Abandoned Children’s Fund donors, the ongoing rescue operation in Haiti is able to continue to work tirelessly to reach the hundreds of children a year who are put into their hands as a last resort.


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