EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA feature story for Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/2009/Morooka

Dahaba holds her one-year-old son Ali at an outpatient centre in El-Berde, several weeks after his recovery from severe acute malnutrition. Working with more than 30 international and local partners, UNICEF has expanded its therapeutic feeding programmes in the country.


EL-BERDE, Somalia, 24 June 2009 – From early in the morning, children and their mothers crowd the outpatient therapeutic centre in El-Berde, seeking its services. The staff at this centre remains busy, attending to the long queue of mothers carrying their babies. They measure each child’s height, weight and arm circumference to assess nutritional status and progress of treatment. Physical check-ups to determine other medical conditions, which can complicate the effects of malnutrition, are also conducted.

An increasing number of people displaced by armed conflict are entering the town of El-Berde, which is located in the Bakool region of southern Somalia, near the border with Ethiopia. The nutritional status of these displaced children, especially those under five who are extremely vulnerable, remains a serious concern.

This therapeutic feeding centre in El-Berde is set-up to treat children suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a life-threatening condition – and is located inside of El-Berde’s maternal and child health care facility, which is run by UNICEF’s partner NGO, the International Medical Corps.

Outside, at the front of the queue, a mother named Dahaba says she came to the feeding centre to have her son Ali, aged one, examined. Children are among the most vulnerable to the violence, food insecurity, poverty and lack of safe drinking water that currently characterize much of southern Somalia. Dahaba notes that her son was in a state of complete frailty just a few months ago.

“Ali was so weak and sick when I first came here,” she recalls. “He was very thin. I was so worried that he wasn’t going to make it. But he is now doing better and even looks totally different. The staff told me today that next week will be the last day for us to come here for a check-up.”

Having provided Ali with weekly follow-ups, rations of Plumpy nut (a therapeutic food product specially formulated to treat severe acute malnutrition), vitamin A and other medicines provided by UNICEF, the outpatient centre staff has decided that Ali is fully recovered and ready to be discharged.

To prevent reversal of his condition, Ali will next be transferred to a UNICEF-supported supplementary feeding programme, during which he will receive a monthly ration of blended foods. His condition will also be monitored on a monthly basis for at least three months.

“Despite the deterioration of the security situation in Somalia, UNICEF’s nutrition interventions have been expanding during the past two years as the high malnutrition rates among children persist and we identify new pockets of very high acute malnutrition,” says UNICEF Somalia Nutrition Specialist Fitsum Assefa. “The good news is that we are able to reach children in desperate need of this life-saving intervention. But also the needs are great and there are very critical pockets of vulnerabilities that are not reached because of insecurity in the country and lack of humanitarian access.”

In the outpatient treatment centres, UNICEF and partner agencies work together to provide a package of interventions to prevent severe or moderate malnutrition, especially among vulnerable children like Ali and Ahmed. This includes therapeutic food through the outpatient feeding centres, inpatient stabilization services, nationwide supplementary feeding programmes as well as blanket feeding interventions.

In 2009, UNICEF expanded its therapeutic feeding programmes in Somalia from 235 to 400, far exceeding the annual target and including in some of the most vulnerable regions of southern Somalia.  This success was made possible through UNICEF’s collaboration with more than 30 international and local nutrition partners.  By the end of 2009, an estimated 150,000 children suffering from severe acute or moderate malnutrition will have received vital treatment as a result of such partnership.