At a glance: Niger

UNICEF-supported health centres combat malnutrition in Niger

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© UNICEF Niger/2010/Pirozzi
An upper arm measuring tape is used to assess malnutrition levels at the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre located 50 km from Maradi, Niger.

By Joëlle Onimus-Pfortner

TAKIETA, Niger, 4 January 2011 – Seeking shade from the scorching midday heat, a small crowd of mothers who have brought their children in for malnutrition screening gather at the public health centre in Niger’s south-central Maradi Region.

“I heard the health centre here treated children for malnutrition, so I brought my grandson Adamou. His mother died eight months ago and I take care of him now,” says Hadiza, one of the many women gathered at the centre.

Hadiza has travelled 20 km to get treatment for two-year-old Adamou. Weighing less than six kilograms, he has already lost three brothers. One in four children dies before his or her fifth birthday in Niger, and malnutrition is often an underlying cause.

Sharing information

The centre at Takieta is one of 822 therapeutic feeding centres located throughout Niger. In 2010, more than 318,000 children under the age of five were admitted to these centres with severe acute malnutrition.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Niger/2010/Pirozzi
In Niger, a mother feeds her severely malnourished child Plumpy'nut, a therapeutic food paste, at the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre supported by UNICEF and managed by MSF Belgium.

Despite an above-average harvest in 2010, admission rates to Niger’s therapeutic feeding centres remain very high, at around 5,000 per week. This figure highlights the importance of the treatment approach at centres like the one at Takieta, where families learn how to treat and prevent malnutrition – and how to seek timely health care for their children when they see warning signs such as fever, weight loss or respiratory infections.

This year, a malaria epidemic sent a large number of children to the nutrition centres. The three huts in the courtyard of the Takieta facility represent its three-step process for malnutrition treatment. At each step, sharing information with mothers and other caregivers is key.

Screened for malnutrition

To begin with, mothers are advised of simple hygiene and nutrition practices that can significantly reduce malnutrition at home, such as washing hands with soap and practicing exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of an infant’s life.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Niger/2010/Pirozzi
A mother holds her child at the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre, which treats undernourished children in Niger.

Next, children are measured for height and weight, or for upper arm circumference, to screen for malnutrition. During the medical examination, the child receives routine medication such as vitamin A and folic acid supplementation, as well as deworming treatment.

Finally, in the third hut, food is distributed. It is here, that Zeinabou Moussa, a dedicated health and social worker, gives mothers a weekly ration of either Plumpy’nut, a high-energy peanut paste for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, or a corn-soya blend that is used to treat moderate acute malnutrition.

A crucial role

“This food is for this child only,” Ms. Moussa explains to one of the mothers. “If you share it among other members of the family, he will not get well.”

A mother of six named Zouhera has come to the centre with her daughter Aichatou to receive treatment for the fourth week running. She nods attentively as she listens to the instructions. “Everyone understands that Aichatou is sick and needs more attention,” she says.

UNICEF plays a crucial role in the fight against severe acute malnutrition in Niger. With the support of its donors and partners, including the European Union, UNICEF provides the government and non-governmental organizations with therapeutic foods, essential drugs, equipment and capacity-building assistance. Needs have increased with the nutrition crisis here, and providing supplies on time is critically important.


 

 

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