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Experiences

Summer woes: child malnutrition in Nepal Laura Stratton

University of Toronto, Class of 2016

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NE OF THE MANY THINGS my classmates and I worried about during our first year of medicine was what to do during the summer. Should the summer be spent doing something “productive,” such as research or work? Or do you escape from the whirlwind that is first year and travel to exotic destinations? Or perhaps it should be left empty, so as to enjoy the luxuries of an unscheduled day? On a break from making Excel charts analyzing the pros and cons of these options, I stumbled across an information session for the non-profit organization Bringing About Better Understanding (BABU; www.thebabu project.com). I learned that BABU was co-founded by University of Toronto medicine graduate Hamid Izadi in 2009, with the mission to improve child health through preventative and curative medicine in Nepal. Since then, more than 50 Canadian medical students have volunteered with BABU in programs that combine clinical experience, public health initiatives, research and adventure in Nepal. I was sold. Gone were my Excel files, replaced with a plane ticket to Kathmandu. Having recently completed a master’s in nutrition, I was thrilled to be assigned to the Nutrition Centre at the International Friendship Children’s Hospital (IFCH). Nepal has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world and the Nutrition Centre was recently opened in response to the overwhelming need in Nepal’s most densely populated city, Kathmandu. The Centre functions to provide nutritional rehabilitation to

April 2014

severely malnourished children, as well as education for their families. My role was to identify evidencebased ways for BABU to help improve the nutrition program offered by IFCH. Despite the extraordinary dedication and passion of the interdisciplinary team of dietitians, nurses and physicians at the centre, its future was uncertain due to lack of sustained funding. There simply were not enough human and material resources available to care for all the malnourished children admitted to IFCH. Although I helped implement practice improvements to the Nutrition Centre, I left Nepal feeling as though the real issue of resource scarcity facing the centre had not been addressed. Coincidently, shortly after returning I received a call for charity nominations for EarthTones — an annual benefit concert put on by University of Toronto students to raise money for child health around the world. I applied on behalf of the Nutrition Centre and was overjoyed to learn that it had been selected as a recipient of donations from the 2013 concert. I know these funds will make an immense difference for children at the Nutrition Centre; however, this is the first of many steps needed to ensure long-term sustainability. Research to evaluate the treatment program at IFCH is critical. To achieve these goals, I am collaborating with the BABU research director, University of Toronto MD/PhD student Natasha Lane, to plan a series of research projects for future students. These projects will focus on examining the cost-effectiveness

CFMS Annual Review

“There simply were not enough human and material resources available to care for all the malnourished children admitted to IFCH.” of different food supplementation options available at the centre, as well as the impact of existing education and outreach programs. We hope that through this work, we will lay a foundation for long-term success of the Nutrition Centre. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I had to learn and work alongside the clinicians I met at IFCH. Continuing this work since returning to Canada has been an unexpected additional bonus, which wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated staff at BABU. I encourage anyone looking for an adventurous and rewarding summer to consider volunteering with BABU, or any international program that exposes you to novel clinical settings. Delete that Excel sheet! Buy a plane ticket! You will be grateful you did! n

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CFMS Annual Review 2014  
CFMS Annual Review 2014  

The CFMS Annual review is a publication that includes summaries of executive members' projects as well as contributions of stories, poetry,...

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