Nutrition: Hope for children in a conflict zone in Mali

In Timbuktu and Gao, five years after the beginning of the crisis, child malnutrition has reached alarming levels

By Cindy Cao
A child suffering from severe acute malnutrition
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko
09 October 2017

In Timbuktu, over 15% of the children suffer from acute malnutrition, a rate considered “critical” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Children suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition, have grave muscle wasting, very low weight for their size and a nine-times greater chance of dying. In 2018, UNICEF estimated that 165,000 children in Mali would suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Azaharatou Dicko, brings her daughter Farimata, 13 months old, for a weekly consultation during which Farimata will be measured and weighed
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

At the community health center in Bellaferendi, a working-class neighborhood in Timbuktu, Azaharatou Dicko is taking her 13-month-old daughter Farimata for a monthly checkup, during which Farimata will be measured and weighed.

Azaharatou Dicko, brings her daughter Farimata, 13 months old, for a weekly consultation during which Farimata will be measured and weighed
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

Azaharatou felt bewildered and hopeless when she saw her daughter vomiting and suffering from diarrhea. In only two days, her baby had lost a lot of weight. After asking for advice from the community health worker in her neighborhood, she went to the Bellafarendi health center, where her daughter was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.

 “I lost my son, Farimata’s older brother. He died of malnutrition.”

Azaharatou Dicko, brings her daughter Farimata, 13 months old, for a weekly consultation during which Farimata will be measured and weighed.
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

Having arrived at the health center in time, little Farimata is now out of danger. But not everyone is that lucky in the midst of the security crisis. “I lost my son, Farimata’s older brother. He died of malnutrition,” explains Azaharatou, with sadness. “My husband had no work. We didn’t even have three meals a day. We only ate rice, when we had any. It was very difficult.”

A malnourished child being screened
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

“Today I am a happy, fulfilled mother, for my daughter’s health is much improved.”

Thanks to treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF), little Farimata has gained weight and will soon recover completely.

 ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF)
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

Therapeutic foods made of enriched peanut paste, for which UNICEF is the primary provider in Mali, have all the nutrients needed for a child’s recovery when suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Adapted to the most difficult security environments, the product requires no water for preparation, no refrigeration, has a long shelf life, and can be used at home.

 Azaharatou listens carefully, with the other mothers, to Rahanatou's advice at the health center
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

Beyond the emergency situation, it is essential to avoid future nutritional crises by reinforcing community resilience. As Azaharatou listens attentively to Rahantou’s advice alongside other mothers at the health center, she learns more about good nutritional, healing and hygiene practices. Better informed and more aware, she’ll be able to avoid malnutrition by adopting new habits, such as exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

 Azaharatou washes her daughter's hands
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko

“They explained that I needed to wash my hands with soap and water before breastfeeding, before feeding my child, and after going to the toilet.”

“They explained that I needed to wash my hands with water and soap before breastfeeding, before feeding my child and after going to the toilet,” says Azaharatou, who now understands the importance of hygiene in preventing malnutrition.

The awareness sessions have also helped Azaharatou understand the importance of the first thousand days of a child’s life – from pregnancy to the child’s second birthday. Investing in what’s known as “the window of opportunity” can change lives.

Mothers come to the health center weekly to keep an eye on their children’s weight, avoid relapses, and participate in awareness sessions. Today, Azaharatou is determined to “ensure the good nutrition of my children.”

A child being tested for malnutrition
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko
 Azaharatou Dickoa with the other mothers at the cscom
UNICEF Mali/2017/Dicko