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At a glance: Niger

Fight for survival: Saving undernourished children in Niger

© UNICEF video
UNICEF-supported nutrition rehabilitation centres in Niger provide supplementary feeding and other health interventions to enhance prospects of survival for undernourished children under five.

By Nina Martinek

Every year 10.5 million children die before the age of five, the vast majority from preventable causes. A high-level Child Survival Symposium is meeting in New York today, galvanizing action to reduce child deaths by two-thirds by 2015, in line with Millennium Development Goal 4. Here is the fourth in a series of UNICEF reports presented in connection with the symposium.

MAYAHI, Niger, 18 September 2006 – Seven-month-old Ramanatou has travelled nine km with her mother to the Mayahi District Hospital in Maradi. She is suffering from diarrhoea, vomiting and a high fever. Unable even to digest her mother’s breast milk, Ramanatou is severely malnourished.

In Niger, 83 per cent of the population lives in rural areas where they rely on subsistence farming. This makes them particularly vulnerable to any disruptions in food supply. Undernourished children suffer from decreased immunity and are susceptible to diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections.

Many people here live perpetually close to the edge of crisis. The semi-arid Sahel region has the highest world’s highest mortality rate for children under five years of age, while Niger and Burkina Faso have the highest ratios of underweight children in all of West and Central Africa.

Nutrition centres

To address the urgent needs of children like Ramanatou and reduce child mortality, UNICEF is working with the government and more than 20 non-governmental organizations to support and expand nutrition rehabilitation centres across Niger. UNICEF and its partners expect to treat 500,000 children in 2006 –  56,000 of whom have become severely undernourished just this year.

© UNICEF video
Ramanatou, a severely undernourished seven-month-old child, on a visit to a rehabilitation centre in Niger.

Currently, UNICEF supports 800 rehabilitation centres and 34 hospitals in Niger to facilitate the treatment of undernourished children. It is supplying the centres with essential drugs, basic equipment, support and training for health workers and therapeutic supplementary foods such as UNIMIX and Plumpy’nut, a vitamin-rich peanut paste.

Ramanatou and other undernourished children at the centres are tested for medical complications such as malaria and tuberculosis, after which they receive comprehensive treatment – including, as needed, antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, vitamin A and de-worming tablets.

Prevention and treatment

Niger’s chronic nutrition crisis arises from multiple factors, such as poor feeding practices and inadequate access to health services, safe drinking water and basic sanitation. High birth rates and low educational levels compound the situation.

Coupled with the treatment, UNICEF is promoting long-term strategies to prevent undernutrition in Niger – another key to child survival.

Community-based programmes, for example, can prevent child deaths by early identification and treatment of moderately undernourished children before hospitalization is necessary. And other initiatives – like one launched in partnership with Action against Hunger-Spain at Mayahi District Hospital – provide mothers with meals, guidance and educational counselling on exclusive breastfeeding for infants, complementary food for toddlers and other beneficial feeding practices.

Niger has already made significant progress in decreasing under-five child mortality. Nevertheless, says UNICEF Representative in Niger Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, “We still need international community mobilization to increase resources available for Niger to save the lives of children.”

Young Ramanatou is receiving the treatment she needs, but even more sustained progress will be needed in order to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 – in Niger and across the developing world.




29 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Nina Martinek reports on therapeutic feeding and treatment programmes for undernourished children in Niger.
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