Addressing malnutrition in northeast Nigeria one child at a time

In northeast Nigeria, in the three states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno that have been affected by the ongoing conflict, one in every five children is severely malnourished.

Eva Hinds
UNICEF Nigeria/2018
05 July 2018

5 July 2018 - Relieved and smiling, Maryam recounts the ordeal she had to go through in the month of May. Her youngest child, Bintu unexpectedly got sick and Maryam had no idea what to do.

“He is smiling and being playful now that he is cured. You should have seen him when I took him to the hospital. He could not eat and his body was very hot and frail,” she says.

For almost a week, one-year-old Bintu had been unwell and had a very high fever. With each passing day, Bintu became weaker and a neighbour advised Maryam to seek treatment at the UNICEF-supported nutrition service centre in Auno Primary Health Care facility, where integrated nutrition services are provided.

“I was very worried. I had never seen this before and my other child had never suffered from this disease. Things are tough now and I did not know whether the fact that we are struggling to find enough food had anything to do with it.”

Maryam, with no formal education and two children under the age of three, relies solely on her husband for survival. Her husband, a farmer who grows crop on a small rented piece of land, has lately been struggling to harvest enough for food and sale. As a result, the household has had very limited food intake, with the youngest, Bintu, being the most affected.

After screening, Bintu was found to have severe acute malnutrition. She also had a high fever, and no appetite after initial medical assessment.

“We had to transfer her to a Stabilization Center for in-patient management of severe acute malnutrition with medical complications in Umaru Shehu Specialist Hospital. We needed her medical condition to be stable first so we could handle her nutritional rehabilitation,” said Muhammad Ali Saleha, a nutrition services provider at Auno nutrition service centre.

To treat her severe acute malnutrition, Bintu benefited from a combination of inpatient and out-patient therapeutic feeding, administered under the UNICEF supported programme of Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).

UNICEF Nigeria/2018
Bintu being assessed.
UNICEF Nigeria/2018
Bintu recovered and discharged.

CMAM is carried out during weekly appointments. During these appointments parents and caregivers are educated on nutrition, the importance of continuing breastfeeding, and the role of hand-washing and hygiene. The nutritional status of the children is assessed and they are given highly nutritious Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). Mothers and caregivers are also provided with supplies of RUTF to feed the children at home.

7 weeks later, with no appointment missed, Bintu was discharged from the programme as cured and healthy.

“I am happy that this programme is happening within my community. To make sure that this does not happen again, I now attend monthly mother support group meetings with other women to share information and tips on how best to ensure that I am giving my children the right and adequate amounts of food,” says Maryam.

In northeast Nigeria, in the three states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno that have been affected by the ongoing conflict, one in every five children is severely malnourished. An estimated 940,000 children aged 6 to 59 months across these states are acutely malnourished, 440,000 with Severe Acute Malnutrition and 500,000 with Moderate Acute Malnutrition.

UNICEF is providing preventive and curative nutrition services, promoting optimal maternal and infant and young child feeding practices, and integrating health, nutrition and water and sanitation interventions to address multi-factorial causes of malnutrition.