The torment of a head of household on the eve of a predicted food crisis
Despite concerted efforts from the Government and partners, Niger remains one of the 10 countries most affected by severe acute malnutrition in children under five. The country's structural difficulties are compounded by other concerns.
"We thought she wouldn't survive the night. Her eyes were rolling back, and she wasn't moving. We were very scared but, thank God, she is better now.” Mohamed Ahmed still trembles when he recalls what his little girl has been through.
Mohamed Ahmed is the loving father of little Zeina. The two-year-old left the Recuperation and Intensive Nutritional Education Centre (CRENI) in Tahoua that morning. The day before, she was still silent, gazing blankly at her mother's arms. She spent four days in hospital for severe acute malnutrition. Surrounded by other silent and immobile children, Zeina was treated with special therapeutic milk for children in her situation. She will have to take medication and ready-to-use therapeutic food for a few more weeks. "All the necessary medicines that the CRENI had in stock have been given to us. We are so grateful," her father whispers.
Zeina’s mother weaned her from breastmilk during Ramadan. The food shared by the whole family was not enough: when Zeina first developed a fever at night, the family did not suspect anything. None of their nine children had ever been hospitalised for malnutrition.
Surrounded by his wife and children, Mohamed watches with a smile as his wife regains the vitality she had lost. He confesses that he is worried about his children's future.
The family left Tchintabaraden, 150 kilometres from Tahoua, five years ago, when Mohamed's father died. The inheritance - the herd - was divided between the brothers, and the livestock received was no longer enough to feed his family. The family therefore dispersed around the country, with Mohamed and his family choosing Tahoua. "It was the lack of wealth that brought us here. Now we are forced to work for others," he says. "We persist, because I want my children to go to school, unlike me. Otherwise, I would have taken the road to Libya or Algeria long ago.”
Now working as a car guard for heavy goods vehicles, the former farmer provides for the family's needs alone. With a salary of 40,000 CFA francs per month (approximately $65.00), he can barely make ends meet.
He does not complain but notes that the rise in food prices forces him to ration for his family: “A bag of rice used to cost 10,000 to 11,000 CFA francs, today it costs 13,000. Sugar and millet have gone up. A five-litre can of oil used to cost 4,000 CFA francs, now I buy it for 7,000.”
Mohamed is caught in the middle of a turmoil that threatens the whole country, particularly in the context of the impact of COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine; to the drought and the growing insecurity throughout the country.
The price of ready-to-use therapeutic foods is projected to rise by up to 16 per cent over the next six months due to soaring raw material costs. Shipping and distribution costs are also high and are not expected to decrease, while the need for these specific products is expected to increase from June onwards, with the start of the annual lean season.
In Niger, the supply of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) was made possible thanks to the support of partners such as ECHO, CERF and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCDO).
FCDO funding contributed to the treatment of 30,723 children aged 6-59 months with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), including 3,292 with medical complications, in the five targeted regions. This represents 12% of the 257,563 children (133,933 girls; 123,630 boys) admitted for treatment in these five regions (including 33,483 with medical complications) and 7% of the 430,708 SAM children nationwide (including 63,339 with medical complications).
A total of 183,909 children were screened and 3,583 were identified with SAM and referred for treatment.
In Niger, thanks to FCDO support, children under 5 years of age and pregnant and lactating women were also reached with messages on optimal maternal and IYCF and care practices at household/community level through 1,517 Mother Support Groups. The health centre staff supported the volunteers in keeping these community platforms active. These groups are accessible to every woman within their catchment area and act as a platform to share knowledge on nutrition, focusing on the promotion of optimal maternal and IYCF and care practices at the household level to improve the nutritional status of pregnant and lactating women and children under 5 years of age.