Background: In emergency nutritional relief programmes, therapeutic feeding centres are the accepted intervention for the treatment of severely malnourished people. These centres often cannot treat all the people requiring care. Consequently, coverage of therapeutic feeding centre programmes can be low, reducing their effectiveness. We aimed to assess the effectiveness of outpatient treatment for severe malnutrition in an emergency relief programme.
Methods: We did a retrospective cohort study in an outpatient therapeutic feeding programme in Ethiopia from September, 2000, to January, 2001. We assessed clinical records for 170 children aged 6-120 months. The children had either marasmus, kwashiorkor, or marasmic kwashiorkor. Outcomes were mortality, default from programme, discharge from programme, rate of weight gain, and length of stay in programme.
Findings: 144 (85%) patients recovered, seven (4%) died, 11 (6%) were transferred, and eight (5%) defaulted. Median time to discharge was 42 days (IQR 28-56), days to death 14 (7-26), and days to default 14 (7-28). Median rate of weight gain was 3.16 g kg(-1) x day(-1) (1.86-5.60). In patients who recovered, median rates of weight gain were 4.80 g kg(-1) day(-1) (2.95-8.07) for marasmic patients, 4.03 g x kg(-1) x day(-1) (2.68-4.29) for marasmic kwashiorkor patients, and 2.70 g x kg(-1) x day(-1) (0.00-4.76) for kwashiorkor patients.
Interpretation: Outpatient treatment exceeded internationally accepted minimum standards for recovery, default, and mortality rates. Time spent in the programme and rates of weight gain did not meet these standards. Outpatient care could provide a complementary treatment strategy to therapeutic feeding centres. Further research should compare the effectiveness of outpatient and centre-based treatment of severe malnutrition in emergency nutritional interventions.