Mali

A partnership provides life-saving treatment in Mali

"Our situation here is very difficult," says Mariam Mahamane, an 18-year-old mother of two in Mali.  Download this video

 

By Bob Coen

As Mali continues to recover from the effects of a violent rebellion, UNICEF and the European Union are supporting efforts to treat and prevent malnutrition.

GAO, Mali, 5 August 2014 – Thirteen-month-old Al Matar sits on a bed in the pediatric ward at Gao Central Hospital eating from a packet of Plumpy’nut, a ready-to-eat therapeutic food. The sticky, peanut-based paste is all over his fingers and smiling face. Next to him, his 18-year-old mother, Mariam Mahamane, looks on contently, relieved her son is feeling better.

Just a week earlier, things were very different.

“Al Matar started having a fever, but we were not too worried, thinking it would pass. However, he then began vomiting and having diarrhea, and he was crying all night long,” Mariam says. “My mother and I would take turns trying to comfort him, but nothing helped. I was so worried.”

She brought her son to the main government-run hospital where Al Matar was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. He was admitted and put on a diet of therapeutic milk followed by Plumpy’nut – interventions made possible through a joint European Union–UNICEF programme to reduce and prevent malnutrition in children under 5 in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in northern Mali.

“I can say that if it wasn’t for these partners who help us with the treatment of these malnourished children, we wouldn’t have the medicine to deal with these malnourished,” explains Dr. Mohamed Al Hadar, Chief Paediatrician at the hospital.

“Nothing we could do”

Already highly vulnerable to food insecurity because of the harsh desert environment and recurring droughts, these regions of the country also bore the brunt of a violent takeover in 2012. During the rebels’ yearlong occupation of the north, government institutions, including medical facilities, became targets for attack. Insecurity and economic collapse forced half a million people to flee to the south or to neighbouring countries.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Mariam (left) receives packages of Plumpy'nut paste to give her son at home.

“During the crisis, the health centres were affected on every level, because in terms of personnel, the health agents fled,” says Dr. Al Hadar. “In terms of equipment, it was all looted.”

The rebels were routed by a French intervention force in early 2013, and a UN peacekeeping mission was established, but the memory of hard times remains fresh for residents here. “It was very difficult, because all economic activity came to a standstill,” Mariam says. “There was no work anywhere, and no one in our family was able to find any money to buy food. There was nothing we could do.”

Today the economic situation in Gao and the rest of the north is still far from what it was. “Our situation here is very difficult. I don’t work, and my husband operates a donkey cart to carry people’s loads. Even when times are good, he earns very little, which allows us to have just one meal a day. But there are times when there is no work and we can go two or even three days without money to buy food. This is how we live, and our children have to live like this too.”

Getting back to normal

With malnutrition a leading cause of death among children – around 45 per cent globally – the European Union-UNICEF programme aims to reduce drastically the number of malnourished children in Mali.

After eight days of treatment. Al Matar is discharged, and his mother receives a week’s supply of Plumpy’nut to continue his treatment at home. She is also instructed to report to the neighborhood health centre once a week for a follow-up consultation, where the child’s recovery will be carefully monitored until he is back to normal. Along with other mothers, Mariam will be able to attend a weekly education session providing information on how to prevent malnutrition.

“I am so happy, because I see that my child is in good health again,” she says. “Even if he’s not 100 per cent recovered, he is so much better now, and I am very grateful.”


 

 

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