By Eva Gilliam
NAIROBI, Kenya, 28 OCTOBER 2011 – Just two months ago, three-year-old Moktar Mohamed was on the verge of death. After his parents lost their livestock and crops to the drought, they travelled by foot and truck from Middle Shabelle to Mogadishu, a trek of over 100 kilometres.
|One hundred days after famine was declared in southern Somalia, UNICEF correspondent Eva Gilliam reports on the situation in Mogadishu. Watch in RealPlayer|
When they arrived, little Moktar was just skin and bones, one of the hundreds of thousands of children in Somalia suffering from serious malnutrition.
“He was brought in by some of the outreach staff in a really bad state,” said Abdullahi Mohamed Ibrahim, a nurse with Somali NGO SAACID (which means, in Somali, 'to help').
“He had severe acute malnutrition, which is the worst kind. “
After two months of treatment with therapeutic foods and medication, Moktar is recovering.
He is one of the lucky ones.
100 days of famine
It has been 100 days since famine was declared in southern Somalia, and UNICEF is continuing efforts to provide children with immunizations, safe drinking water, therapeutic feeding and other life-saving interventions. Between July and late September, over 110,000 children in the region were admitted to UNICEF-supported health centres for severe and moderate malnutrition.
|Ibrahim Hassan sits with his malnourished son, Nharrig, in an outpatient clinic in Mogadishu, the capital. Mr. Hassan and his family left their home in the southern city of Baidoa, coming to Mogadishu in search of food.|
Despite these efforts, the number of children suffering from malnutrition is rising. Even as rains finally hit Mogadishu, drought continues to plague much of the south, where hunger and disease remain daily companions to families and their children.
“Malnutrition has become something widespread,” says Mohamed Abdi, a health worker with SAACID. “If you receive five children at the therapeutic centre to be checked, four will be malnourished.”
Threat of disease
Three-year-old Ismael Hassan’s small hands are swollen, his skin peeling from edema. He has a Kwashiokor, a form of severe acute malnutrition in which protein, mineral and vitamin deficiencies cause fat and muscle loss.
“The child has a constant fever,” said his father, Hasan Abdi Mohamed. “And blisters on his skin. He’s been sick for three months, but it is only this month that his body became swollen.”
Mr. Mohamed brought Ismael to the SAACID therapeutic centre, but he is sceptical the boy will recover. “I know he is suffering, and it is so bad,” he said. “I just hope the treatment will work.”
Severely malnourished children like Ismael are nine times more likely than healthy children to die from infectious diseases like measles, cholera and malaria. And the threat of disease is ever-present in the overcrowded displacement camps of Mogadishu, where Ismael’s family lives.
|A woman holds her sick baby and a prescription for oral rehydration salts at a temporary health clinic in Mogadishu, the capital.|
Disease can contribute to malnutrition, as well. Three-year-old Abdi’s severe acute malnutrition was caused by a measles infection.
“He got sick and had a lot of diarrhoea and fever,” said his mother, Hindya, of the conditions that caused his malnutrition. He was treated at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre in Mogadishu.
With help, there is hope
The scale of the crisis, which is against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict, remains staggering. Across southern Somali, an estimated 336,000 children under age five are acutely malnourished – and nearly half could die within weeks.
But with help, there is hope. Today, Moktar is out of the danger zone, and his skin and eyes are healthy and bright.
“How can I say how happy I am that he is better?” said his father, awash with relief. “My boy is alive.”
Crisis in the Horn of Africa
In Kenya, school offers meals and shelter