Malnutrition in Chad: the stories behind the figures

Close to 300,000 children under five years of age have been treated for severe acute malnutrition in Chad in 2021. The silent emergency is chronic, and ongoing.

Donaig Le Du
a child sitting on a hospital bed
22 March 2022

We are grateful to the partners whose support is key to being able to reach theses children, the European Union, The United States of America through USAID (Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance)  and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom.

Malnutrition takes the lives and futures of children. It stunts their growth and puts them at higher risk for diseases, diminishing their capacity to fully function, leaving them vulnerable to developmental delays, and death. Wasting and other forms of malnutrition are the result of maternal malnutrition, low birthweight, poor feeding and care practices, and infection exacerbated by food insecurity, limited access to safe drinking water, and poverty

The number of Chadian children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition is increasing dramatically because of conflict, epidemics and food insecurity, climate change-induced droughts and flooding. Growing evidence also suggests that wasting and other forms of malnutrition occur very early in life and disproportionally affect children under two years of age.

baby  Majorité is checked at a health center in Ndjamena
Baby Majorité is going through her bi-montly check up in Ambatta health center in Ndjamena

Baby Majorité is a tiny - but very alert - little girl. While her mother Anastasie tries to concentrate on the advice given by the community health worker in charge of the Ambatta health centre outpatient nutrition unit, located in the outskirts of the Chadian capital N'Djamena, the toddler is climbing on her shoulder, grabbing her mother’s facemask.

Anastasie Napidimbaye is 24 years old, and Majorité is her second child- the first one did not survive. Neither she nor her husband currently have a job.

When the baby girl got sick with diarrhea and lost her appetite a few weeks ago, at just nine months of age, the young mother knew she had to do something. She brought her baby to the health centre, where her fears were confirmed: Majorité was sick with severe acute malnutrition. She was sent home with 28 bags of Plumpy’Nut (Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food), enough to start Majorité’s journey to recovery.

Two weeks into the programme, the little girl is smiling and playing again, Anastasie says. But the measurement shows that there is still a long way to go: the girl’s arm perimeter measurement shows that Majorité is still in the danger zone.

a nurse is checking on a malnourished child
Two years old Izadima is being examined by a nurse in Abeche hospital

Two-year-old Izadima is lying on her mother’s lap, hardly moving, moaning softly when the nurse examines her. The very sick little girl weighs only six kilos, a typical case of severe acute malnutrition.

Izadima has been sick for the past two months, experiencing diarrhea and quietly losing her strength and energy. 

Her mother Kaltouma knew what these signs meant. Izadima has had an episode just like this one before. ‘I have been negligent,’ she whispers. ‘But it takes me a whole day by taxi and 2,500 FCFA (4 USD) to get to Abeche.’

Kaltouma, 19 years old, has been providing for her only child ever since the baby was six months old. At that time, her husband left to work in an artisanal gold mine, and has never been heard from ever since, nor has he sent any money to support his family. In addition to an already dire situation, Kaltouma’s mother passed away a couple months ago, leaving her to care for her five younger siblings.

Back home in Hawish, in Chad’s Djourf Al Hamar district, over a hundred kilometers from the provincial capital Abeche, Kaltouma tries to make a living by carrying bundles of wood on donkeys and selling them at the market

A family in Ndjamena Notre Dame des Apotres hospital
Anahim with his little sister and parents, in N'Djamena's Notre Dame des Apotres hospital

Three-year-old Anahim is hardly bigger than his seven-month-old sister, Amichair. The boy has just been admitted to N'Djamena’s Notre Dame des Apôtres hospital, suffering from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications. The family has two children – the father, Ahmat, 20, is a shop keeper in the bush 130 km from N'Djamena. The mother Halima,  is 17 and already has a three-year-old and a seven-month-old. She weaned the first child when she got pregnant with the second. At home, he eats “la boule”, a paste made of millet, which is very poor in nutriments.

A internally displaced woman sitting with her children in Lake Chad province
Yakoura Madro, a 42-year-old displaced woman, with her children, in the site for internally displaced persons in Amma, near Liwa, in the Lake Chad province

Yakoura’s youngest son, Mahmat, is eight-month-old.  “The baby was sick ever since he was born, says the mother of six. Myself, I was sick when I was pregnant. We tried traditional medicine, but it did not work so we went to the health center and they gave him Plumpy’nut. Now he is getting better”.

Yakoura and her family used to live in Boma, on the shores of Lake Chad, tending to their fields and “living a good life” she says. After an attack on the village the family fled and settled in Amma, a site for internally displaced persons near Liwa, away from the Lake and its armed groups. Baby Mahmat was born here, in the camp.

Haoua looking at the camera
One-year-old Haoua in Bol hopital, in the Lake Chad Province

Haoua is one-year-old, and she only weighs 4.8 kg. She recently suffered from severe diarrhea, and her mother took her to Bol provincial hospital, in the Lake Chad Province, where she is being treated for severe acute malnutrition.

Fatime, the young mother, is only 20, Haoua is her fourth child and she is heavily pregnant with the fifth one.

a mother receiving plumpy nut
Kadiji Djouma, a 26 years old woman, with her 7 months old baby Hamza, at the health center of the sudanese refugees camp, in Kouchaguine Moura in the East of Chad. After the boys was diagnosed with malnutrition, the mother receives a supply of therapeutic food for her baby.

Kadiji, a Sudanese mother of 6 children, has been living for 2 years in the Kouchaguine Moura refugee camp, outside Abeche in Eastern Chad. She brought her little boy Hamza, born in the camp, to the health center because he’s dehydrated.

After malnutrition was diagnosed, the mother receives a stock of Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food for her baby. The child will be checked again in a few days.


a boy eating Plumpy Nut
Bashir is 4 is treated for severa cute malnutrition in N'djamena's Notre Dame des Apôtres hospital.

Bashir is 4 years old and he treated for severe acute malnutrition. His appetite is coming back and he is slowly improving.

His mother, Hadida, has 6 children.

According to Alex Tog-Yangué, nutritionist, head of the Nutrition Unit in N'Djamena's Notre Dame des Apôtres hospital, , an average of 4.9 children are admitted every day with peaks in July and August, when at some point up to a hundred children were hospitalised at the same time in this hospital only.