© UNICEF Mauritania/2008

Women visit a UNICEF-supported health centre in Kaedi to learn about a country-wide campaign to treat children suffering from malnutrition, iron deficiency and parasites.


Habi Anne, 30, mother of three children, runs up at the first light of dawn to the health centre of Kaédi, the capital of one of the country’s poorest regions. She brings today to the centre her four-year-old son, who has suffered always from ill health. Like his peers, he has several pathologies and his survival remains at risk. He is in danger of being part of the one eighth of Mauritanian children who will die before their fifth birthday.

A third of the children who receive treatment in the health centre of Kaédi suffer one of the different forms of malnutrition, a figure that increases during the hungry season, when the granaries and the stomachs are empty. The health indicators registered in Kaédi are the worst in the country: there, a third of the school-age children have vitamin A deficiency and 8 out of every 10 children of the same age group suffer anaemia. To take up this challenge, Mauritania has successfully developed a biannual deworming campaign together with vitamin A supplementation, which will protect the sight and the life of around 500,000 children between 6-59 months at the national level this year.

Alarmed by persistent diarrhoea, Habi Anne wanted to avoid the worst. “Even when he has the slightest health problem, I take him to the health centre”, she says. The Chief Medical Officer at the health centre, Dr Mohammed Saïd, who examines the child, believes that most of the little diseases that are due to malnutrition have to be managed correctly. “Children are in general infested with parasites, which lead to malnutrition and anaemia. These organisms, especially roundworms, intestinal worms that may reach several centimetres, are one of the main causes of these pathologies on their own”, he adds.

These problems began to be confronted through the provision of free deworming drugs to all children under five. The centre’s health professionals launched a big campaign at Kaédi and the surrounding areas, together with associations and non-governmental organizations, health posts and schools, with the support of UNICEF. With megaphones and the support of media and the mosques, tens of volunteers went from port to port and tent to tent to overcome the fear to the deworming drugs in the communities.

“The people know us”, says Ms. Cira, a nurse. “They trust us. We remind them that their children eat earth, accidentally or not, because they lack iron. This causes diarrhoea. Then, they become stunted. They vomit. They have fever. If they stop eating, we need immediately to think in deworming them”.

Providing deworming drugs goes together with vitamin A supplementation. “In order that the people accept better the vitamin A, we need to link it with deworming, which they understand more easily”, says Dr Mohamed Saïd. The message has been well received at Kaédi and the surrounding areas, where 90 per cent of the targeted population got involved.

The progress achieved was due to the joint efforts of UNICEF and the people of the central service for nutrition, who work flat-out and very close together in the strategic and operational plan to control malnutrition and, along the way, to save children. If there are resources available, an integrated nutritional intervention will be implemented to improve the survival of Mauritanian children.

Habi Anne, following the example of other mothers, actively prepares the return to the school of his little child, who is increasingly better, blossoming and growing up.