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An idiot’s guide to…Emergency Response

This weekend I had what most people would call a lazy Sunday.  I enjoyed the sun (before it disappears again), watched TV and generally tried to be as unproductive as possible.

My first three weeks as the Emergency Communications Intern had taken its toll and a day watching old episodes of ‘Murder She Wrote’ was exactly what the doctor ordered (it was the jilted-lover, if you were wondering).

These past three weeks have seen several occasions where I’ve felt somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer mountain of technical speak encountered when sifting through reports or attending meetings.  Please don’t get me started on the bottomless pit of acronyms!

It’s with this in mind that I start my weekly blog – an idiot’s guide to Emergency Response terminology. Hopefully it will help me (and the other two people who might read it) understand what we do in emergencies all over the world that little bit better.

So, let the learning commence! This week’s entry concerns the MUAC tape.  A very topical entry for those following the crises currently occurring in West and East Africa.

Nazifa is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. He's being weighed at a Save the Children feeding centre in Guindaoua, Niger.

MUAC tapes

Standing for Mid-Upper Arm Circumference, MUAC tapes are like small measuring tapes used to assess the nutritional status of children aged from six months to five years.

Simply wrapped around the upper arm of a child, they are very easy to use so community workers/volunteers can be trained to use them almost instantly.  As a result they are ideally suited to screen children for admission to our feeding programmes.

The way they are used is simple – the age of the child is determined, then the mid-point of the child’s upper-left arm is determined (this is either measured using the tape or string, or by sight), then the tape is wrapped around to measure the circumference.

On each band there are often three or four different coloured zones, starting with green (representing normal), moving through yellow and/or orange (moderately malnourished) to red, which identifies the child as severely malnourished.

If children in the red zone are not quickly treated, there is a very real risk of death or profound long-term health and development issues.

Hunger is a life sentence

As our No Child Born to Die campaign has highlighted, the life chances of malnourished children are significantly lower.  Stunting, impaired physical development and an under-developed brain are all consequences of untreated malnutrition.

Across the Sahel, we are witnessing an increase in the moderate acute malnutrition rate (MAM) of children under five.  This will almost certainly deteriorate further to severe acute malnutrition (SAM) unless action is taken.  Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for preventative measures is quickly drawing to a close.

In Niger alone, we have already responded to 36,000 SAM cases; providing access to medicines, ready-to-use therapeutic food and, in the most severe cases, stabilisation centres.

We plan to reach over 2.5 million people across West Africa and there is no doubt that the MUAC band will play a huge role in identifying those children most in need of our help.

Please help us reach more children – donate to our West Africa Appeal now


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