In Banki, therapeutic food help keep vulnerable children alive

With micronutrient nutrition supplies, essential drugs and counselling from health care workers, conflict-affected children in Banki, north-east Nigeria are bouncing back from the brink of malnutrition

Folashade Adebayo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A woman and her baby
17 May 2022

Before bringing her emaciated daughter to a UNICEF-supported health facility in Banki, a conflict affected town in north-east Nigeria, Fatima Modu had tried some home remedies to cure the loose motions and cough, including a traditional practice of using onion extract.

The traditional practice is popular among the poor residents of the town; and is a cheap go-to herb for cold and cough among residents, majority of whom are displaced from 14 neighbouring communities.

Displaced four years ago from Wnilibari a nearby village, Fatima and her family are one of the vulnerable families struggling for a living in Banki.  With no sustainable income for consistent feeding and clothing, families often resort to traditional practices to cure ailments. But four days of trial at home did nothing to help 7-month-old Zara Babagana. In addition to her earlier symptoms, Zara developed high fever with vomiting.

“When we relocated to Banki, our traditional healer taught us to use onion extract to cure coughs,’’ said the 25-year-old housewife. “I had taken my daughter for immunization which started giving some relief to the child. Though the cough reduced, but I became worried when she developed high fever,’ said Fatima.

However, a visit from Falmata Ali, a UNICEF-supported Community Nutrition Mobiliser (CNM) put paid to the situation. Falmata is one of 18 CNMs engaged by UNICEF in Banki to mobilise women and other caregivers on hygiene promotion and proper child feeding practices. Ali was on a routine house-to-house calls when she discovered Fatima and her sick baby.


“Fortunately, I was with my mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) tape which I wrapped around the baby’s left mid arm. The baby measured less than 10cm. It was a clear case of malnutrition and I immediately referred both mother and child to the clinic for medical help. Alhamdulilahi, as she was admitted, she got the special treatment of her problem and as a result the symptoms have stopped, and the baby is gradually gaining weight and strength,’’ said Falmata.

An elderly woman
Falmata Ali

The UNICEF-supported Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programme (OTP) in Banki is located in a section of the health centre run by the Borno State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (SPHCDA). With funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), UNICEF is supplying the OTP centre with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), micronutrients and essential drugs to stop malnutrition-related deaths among children.

North-east Nigeria is currently recording the highest burden of acute child malnutrition since 2016. According to the Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) survey result, March 2022, high food insecurity, measles, cholera and other infections are the driving factors. This year, about 1.7million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition across the region. Nutrition supplies from UNICEF, with support from ECHO, is helping to save children  from malnutrition.

In addition to building the capacity of CNMs to screen and refer children with severe acute malnutrition to the OTP site in Banki, UNICEF has also trained healthcare workers at the SPHCDA facility to provide quality feeding counseling to mothers.

“I have screened over 300 children with the MUAC tape and a significant number of children are malnourished. The number of acute malnutrition cases is the same among new returnees and members of the community. It is not uncommon to see children measuring 9cm and below on the tape,’’ said Falmata.