Niger’s faces of need: the struggle of Rabi and Ramanatou
Seven-month-old Ramanatou has travelled 9 km with her mother to the Mayahi District Hospital in the southern region of Maradi. Rabi Saidou is worried as her baby girl has grown increasingly lethargic. She is suffering from diarrhoea, vomiting and high fever and can’t even digest her mother’s breastmilk anymore. Weighing a mere 3.1 kg for 60 cm, listless Ramanatou is acutely malnourished.
The Maradi region was the epicentre of the 2005 crisis that revealed a deeply rooted nutrition crisis. In Niger, many people live perpetually close to the edge of crisis.
In addition to food availability and accessibility, multiple factors contribute to the nutrition crisis. Poor feeding practices for infants and toddlers, little access to health services, lack of safe drinking water and basic sanitation coupled with high birth rates and low educational levels compound the situation.
In Niger, one in five children dies before the age of five and half of these deaths are associated with malnutrition.
Ramanatou was treated one month ago for moderate malnutrition but her condition has worsened. She is now diagnosed with severe malnutrition and will be tested for medical complications such as malaria and tuberculosis. She will then receive the appropriate therapeutic treatment, including essential drugs such as antibiotics, vitamin A and micronutrient supplementation as well as de-worming tablets.
The UNICEF-supported Mayahi Hospital Centre for Nutritional Rehabilitation, run by Action Against Hunger-Spain, will now guide Rabi on the road to her child’s recovery. Ramanatou will first drink therapeutic milk rich in nutrients formulated to stabilize bodily functions. As her appetite improves, Ramanatou will start eating, in addition to her mother’s breastmilk, what Nigerien mothers have called the ‘biskuit’ – therapeutic milk in the form of an enriched, ready-to-use, nut paste. Ramanatou has to gain weight. She must reach her target weight (4.8 kg) before she can be sent back home.
Ramanatou is one of the half a million malnourished children that UNICEF and its partners have treated in the course of 2006.
To address the nutrition crisis and reduce child mortality, UNICEF has urged the Government and all its partners to put nutrition at the centre of development efforts in Niger. Since July 2005, regular and emergency nutrition programmes have been scaled up. In 2006, UNICEF has supported more than 800 nutritional centres and 34 hospitals to facilitate the integration of malnutrition treatment activities into the national health system.
In coordination with more than 20 NGOs, UNICEF supplies therapeutic and supplementary foods such as UNIMIX (vitamin and mineral enriched flour), therapeutic milk and plumpy’nut (vitamin and mineral enriched milk and nut paste), essential drugs, basic equipment as well as technical support and training.
In addition to emergency therapeutic treatments, UNICEF and its partners are also promoting long-term projects to enable sustained prevention and relief from malnutrition. For instance, UNICEF is working with communities to prevent child hospitalization by early identification and treatment of malnourished children.
While treatment of malnutrition is the main focus of rehabilitation programmes, prevention is another major component. To help prevent Nigerien children from joining the grim statistics, a bold strategy that includes both prevention and emergency response interventions is needed. In the afternoons, Rabi will join other mothers and caregivers in staff-led sessions that do not teach them only about nutrition, but also about health care, hygiene, sanitation practices and seasonal gardening to provide a diversified diet to their children.
Despite significant improvements during the past year, accelerated and sustained progress is needed to meet Millennium Development Goals 1 and 4 and to significantly reduce child underweight and mortality by 2015.
Thanks to the Government’s commitment and the mobilization of the international community, there is a ray of hope for Ramanatou and many other Nigerien children.
© UNICEF Niger/2006/Bausson