At a glance: Niger

Health centres focus on treatment of undernourished children in Niger

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Baraka, a young mother in in Guidimouni, Niger, brings her 13-month-old son Abdul to the local health centre, where he is diagnosed with severe acture malnutrition and malaria.

By Joelle Onimus-Pfortner

MIRRIAH, Niger, 18 June 2010 – When Baraka, a young mother in Guidimouni, southern Niger, took her 13-month-old son Abdul to the local health centre, tests showed that he was suffering from severe acute malnutrition and malaria. He spent a week in an outpatient feeding programme but continued to lose weight.

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“Abdul needs to be taken to the hospital in Mirriah,” Baraka said, leaving the rest of her family behind temporarily to get life-saving treatment for her son in the nearest big town.

In fact, Abdul is just one of many children expected to be admitted in the coming months to the therapeutic feeding centre for severely undernourished children in Mirriah. And across Niger, an estimated 378,000 children ranging from six months to five years of age are expected to be treated for severe acute malnutrition over the next 12 months.

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© UNICEF video
A nurse at the the health centre in Guidimouni, Niger recommends that Baraka take her young son Abdul to a centre for severely malnourished children in Mirriah, the nearest big town.

Managing undernutrition

The situation here is ominous: There are still four months to go until the next harvest, and already there is nothing left to eat in many areas. Poor rainfall has caused crop failure, meaning that almost half of the population of Niger has no food reserves. The situation seems to portend a food crisis similar to the one in 2005 that affected thousands of children.

In 2006, the Government of Niger initiated a process of integration among its various structures to ensure the sustainability of undernutrition management. One of the resulting facilities, estabolished at the Mirriah hospital with support from UNICEF, is dedicated to the treatment of undernourished children.

In this therapeutic feeding centre, Abdul and other children with severe acute malnutrition receive intensive care and treatment. The spacious, airy rooms sleep 32, increasing the hospital’s capacity by 50 per cent. The number of children admitted for treatment has increased sharply since mid-April and is expected to rise again in July and August.

UNICEF Niger also supports the management of severe acute malnutrition through supply of therapeutic foods, essential drugs and equipment at the hospital in Mirriah. For example, one water bladder has been installed and two more are on the way, since access to safe water is vital for hygiene and the preparation of therapeutic milk.

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Abdul, 13 months, is transferred to the therapeutic feeding centre at Mirriah hospital, Niger. Established with support from UNICEF, the new facility is devoted entirely to the treatment of undernourished children.

Working with NGO partners

To cope with the looming nutrition crisis, the government health system is working with 20 non-governmental organizations, including BEFEN (Bien Etre de la Femme et de l'Enfant au Niger) and Forsani. BEFEN works closely with the Mirriah hospital and other therapeutic feeding programmes at 15 health centres.

“That a national NGO is now involved in the management of cases of malnutrition in children has a positive impact,” said Dr. Maidadji, BEFEN’s field coordinator. “Local authorities are not in denial of the situation, as they were in 2005,” he added. “The local population accepts us. They are starting to understand that malnutrition is an illness and not something that is acceptable and normal.”

UNICEF’s NGO partners support public health in three main areas: providing qualified human resources, delivering health equipment and drugs, and maintaining logistics. The long-term goal is to transfer these competencies so that qualified staff and supplies are always available locally.

“Until now, the hospital had no area dedicated to the treatment of malnutrition,” said Dr. Omar Mahamadou, one of the Mirriah hospital staff members recruited by BEFEN. “Now there are 21 BEFEN-supported staff here, from doctors to a cook, to ensure quality care.”

Importance of timely response

Each child at the hospital who has been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition receives vitamin A and folic acid supplements, de-worming tablets and antibiotics, as well as malaria treatment when necessary. Monthly orders for these medications and supplements are made with technical support from BEFEN at the district level.

“It is important that orders are made correctly and on time, to avoid stock-outs, which can be fatal to malnourished children,” said Dr. Maidadji.

Because the local health district does not have a warehouse, BEFEN stocks the therapeutic food for undernourished children, while the health district staff makes sure the food is dispatched according to need. At the same time, the international NGO Alima provides financial and technical support to BEFEN, making certain that everything is done according to international standards.

In the face of the nutrition crisis in Niger, UNICEF and partners are working to ensure that adequate care reaches children in time – so that they can survive this crisis and thrive again.


 

 

Video

UNICEF correspondent Nina Martinek reports on the treatment of severely malnourished children in Niger in the face of a looming food crisis. Produced by François Therrien.
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