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In Chad, finding long-term solutions to the nutrition crisis

By Héloïse Vilain

MAO, Chad, 4 June 2012 – “My other children were able to walk when they were 8 months old, but not Ereta,” said Zaïnabou Mamataya. At 8 months, Ereta weighed only 2.6 kg and was admitted to hospital in Nokou, Western Chad's Kanem Region.

24 April 2012: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on how UNICEF is working on long-term solutions to the nutrition crisis in Chad.  Watch in RealPlayer


Kanem is part of Chad’s Sahelian strip, which has been affected by the food and nutrition crisis afflicting Africa’s Sahel region. The nutrition situation has been deteriorating in Chad since the beginning of 2012, with poor rains continuing to affect agricultural output.

This has been devastating not just for Ereta but for thousands like her. According to UNICEF, an estimated 127,000 children in Chad will be at risk of severe acute malnutrition, a deadly condition, this year. UNICEF is now scaling up its support to hospitals and health centres in the region, providing them with the supplies to treat malnutrition.

Two weeks after her admission to the hospital, Ereta was improving. She had gained 500 g. “Now, when I give her milk, she drinks it normally. She puts on weight and I can see many changes. She is not anymore as she once was,” Ms. Mamataya said.

© UNICEF video
At 8 months old, Ereta, in Nokou, Chad, weighed just 2.6 kg. The rains have failed across the Sahel region, and in the Chad the problem is compounded by one of the world’s lowest rates of breastfeeding.

Preventing malnutrition through breastfeeding

UNICEF is also working on prevention – tackling the underlying causes of malnutrition. “In Chad, people have an unbalanced diet, mainly based on cereal. Mothers don’t… think of practicing exclusive maternal breastfeeding,” said Roger Sodjinou, UNICEF Chad Nutrition Officer.

In Chad, only 3 in every 100 women exclusively breastfeed their babies, one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. But an estimated 13 per cent of all deaths among children under age 5 could be prevented with this practice. Additionally, many children in Chad are fed unsafe water that can cause diarrhoea and other illnesses.

“After delivery, I began to give some water to my child, or water boiled with millet and mixed with oil,” Ms. Mamataya explained. “I did that because this is an old tradition coming from our grandmothers. I do not really know why.”

© UNICEF video
A community health facilitator explains the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding to Chadian mothers.

Working toward a healthier the future

UNICEF works closely with its partner Médecins du Monde to organize discussion sessions with community groups in villages. These sessions are run by community facilitators with the aim of raising awareness about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. Mothers who practice exclusive breastfeeding tell other women about their personal experiences.

“When we have theories, we have to put them into practice,” said Achta Mahamt Saleh, a community health facilitator.

"Changing beliefs and traditional practices takes time, and a development plan is needed to challenge this issue. The first stage consists in improving skills and then implementing a system that gives access to a varied diet” said Mr. Sodjinou.

There are many underlying causes of malnutrition, but many ways to reduce its incidence, too. In the face of today's food crisis, priority goes to saving lives immediately, but long-term integrated strategies for development are also crucial, and will yield life-saving benefits long into the future.



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