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At a glance: Niger

UNICEF aims to make nutrition a national priority in Niger

© UNICEF Niger/ 2011/Mistycki
In Kollo, the inpatient therapeutic feeding center welcomes children suffering from severe malnutrition.

By Véronique Mistycki

Kollo, Niger, 17 November 2011 – In the Integrated Health Center of Kollo, South Niger, a few women holding their emaciated babies line up in front of the out-patient therapeutic feeding center (CRENAS). Zelika Marou has four children. Today, she brought her 11-month-old daughter, Fati Hama, for her weekly consultation.

“I came to the health center because my baby had fever and diarrhoea, but I was told that she was also suffering from malnutrition,” she explained. Fati Hama started her treatment six weeks ago, and today is her last appointment. “Look at her,” said Mrs. Marou holding her baby girl with pride. “She looks so healthy now!”

A chronic issue

Even outside times of crisis, malnutrition remains a major health issue in Niger.

“It’s only October and we have already admitted twice as many children suffering from malnutrition with complications than during the whole year in 2010,” said Dr. Sadou Moussa, Head of Medical Services at the Kollo Integrated Health Center. “This is a good and a bad sign at the same time: it shows that more families are using health services and that we are better equipped to detect malnutrition and take care of the children.”

To respond to the major food and nutrition crisis of 2010, UNICEF and its partners supported the development of new treatment sites for malnutrition within existing health centers. This allowed not only to provide treatment for children in a context of emergency, but also to integrate nutrition issues at the heart of the existing health system. In Kollo, a new building was constructed to host the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (CRENI),and medicine and other supplies were made available to ensure quality of care.

© UNICEF Niger/ 2011/Mistycki
Zelika Marou brought her 11-month-old baby girl for her last consultation at the therapeutic feeding center of Kollo.

Moreover, several health agents were trained to improve their skills in terms of managing childhood illnesses, with an emphasis on the detection and treatment of malnutrition. Malnutrition is often linked to other child preventable diseases such as malaria, respiratory infections, and diarrhoea, and it is essential for health agents to understand the range of health issues that can affect children so they can provide quality care.

Further support needed

Aissa Hamadou works in the Kollo Integrated Health Center. She received the Childhood Illness Management training a few months ago. “Now I know better how to detect malnutrition, and I make sure that all babies who come to the center are properly screened,” she said. “I am also better at talking with the families about health and hygiene issues but also about adequate dietary intake for their children.”

Thanks to better trained staff, health centers are now able to provide health education sessions for the families whose children are being treated for malnutrition, focusing on nutrition and hygiene practices. The quality of care has increased a lot in the health center of Kollo, as well as in many other treatment centers in the country. However, further support will be needed to meet the increasing demand.

Making nutrition a priority

“We are now able to treat many more children each day,” said Dr. Moussa. “We hope we can further expand in the future to welcome our patients in better conditions”.

Even though important progress has been achieved, the recurrent food and nutrition crisis have made it difficult to invest in prevention activities on a large scale, and malnutrition is likely to remain a chronic issue in Niger for some time. To make sure that malnutrition stays on the agenda, UNICEF has been advocating to make nutrition a national priority and to build a national consensus around key strategies to fight malnutrition. Strengthening the capacity of health centers and improving health workers’ skills is an essential component of these efforts.



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