At a glance: Niger

Amidst poverty and food crisis, number of child deaths in the Niger plummets

By Bob Coen

AGUIE, Maradi Region, Niger, 17 September 2012 - Tiny Bassariya Aweso lies in a hospital cot whimpering softly as her mother gently strokes her back, trying to offer some comfort. The 1-year-old girl has been recovering from the effects of severe acute malnutrition at the Intensive Therapeutic Feeding Centre of Aguie District Hospital for more than three weeks.

UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on a steep decrease in the number of child deaths in the Niger.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

A weakened immune system has left her vulnerable to other diseases. She is now also suffering from malaria.

Filled to capacity

The ward where serious cases are admitted is filled almost to capacity with sick children and their worried mothers. “When children arrive here, they are already in a critical state, in very bad condition,” explains health worker Amadou Mohamed Nassirou as checks on the children, surrounded by constant crying. “This is why many have a lot of complications.”

Most have been referred here from health posts in surrounding villages, where communities have been struggling to cope with the effects of the severe food crisis currently gripping the Sahel region.

“Locusts destroyed our crops last year, and so we were forced to buy food. But then we ran out of money, and there was no more food,” says Bassariya’s mother Zainabou Abdou, 19. “So, I was not eating and stopped producing breast milk for Bassariya. All I could do was cry.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Zainabou Abdou tries to comfort her 1-year-old daughter Bassariya at the Intensive Therapeutic Feeding Centre of Aguie District Hospital in the Niger. The child suffered from severe acute malnutrition and malaria and had to be hospitalized for almost a month.

Around the world, 19,000 children under 5 die every day from largely preventable diseases. Most of the Niger’s population are poor farmers who grow their own food, making children here some of the most vulnerable. While most countries have made strong inroads into tackling the major killers of children, sub-Saharan Africa carries the highest burden of child mortality. Children from poor rural areas are much more likely to die before their fifth birthday than those in urban areas.

Urgent care, and education

The combination of malnutrition and malaria from which Bassariya suffers is particularly deadly.  Globally, more than one third of child deaths are attributable to undernutrition, and malaria killed half a million children in 2011 – nearly all in sub-Saharan Africa. But thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Niger’s Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and NGO partners, more and more children are being saved in the Niger.

Bassariya has responded well to almost a month of treatment, receiving anti-malarial treatment, as well as therapeutic foods such as Plumpy’nut and fortified milk powder. She has gained strength and put on weight. Ms. Abdou, along with other mothers, has received education on how to prevent malnutrition, malaria and other child-killers.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Ms. Abdou and Bassariya wait to be discharged from the Intensive Therapeutic Feeding Centre. After the long trip to their village, they will be greeted by friends and relatives who thought they would never see the infant alive again.

“We’ve learnt about the importance of breastfeeding, and giving our children other important foods like beans and peanut-butter-enriched porridge,” she says. “They’ve also taught us how important it is for our children to sleep under a mosquito net and how to use it properly.”

Radically reducing child deaths

As Mr. Nassirou gives little Bassariya her last check-up before she will be released to Ms. Abdou’s care, he says, “The importance of our efforts is to reduce child mortality in Niger. If you look at the mortality figures here, you’ll see they total to no more than 5 per cent.”

Ms. Abdou and Bassariya receive vitamin drops and a dose of iron supplements.  They are discharged and referred to an outpatient clinic, where they will return for a weekly check-up until Bassariya is completely healthy. After their four-hour walk under the hot sun back to their home village, Malankaoua, mother and daughter are greeted ecstatically by loved ones who thought they would never see the little girl again.

Niger has seen a 60 per cent decline in under-5 mortality since 1990 and today ranks as one of the top twenty performing countries in reducing child deaths – an achievement that is particularly impressive for one the world’s poorest countries.


 

 

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