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Drought 2006 - Boy's long journey to treatment

© UNICEF Somalia/1321-01-06/Bannon.
A nurse from World Vision attends to Shubeb at the MCH clinic in Wajid. The nurse diagnosed an enlargement of the liver due to malnutrition.

By Denise Shepherd-Johnson

Wajid, February 2006 - Shubeb Frow Hussein is just six years old. Feverish and malnourished, he travelled 180 km with his father from their village in Baidoa in southern Somalia to the Maternal and Child Health Clinic in Wajid town. 

Baidoa is one of the areas devastated by the current drought. It is an area that has always been impoverished but Shubeb’s situation is made worse by the drought.

For three consecutive seasons, the rains have failed to reach average levels leading to crop failure and loss of livestock. Some 1.4 million people reside in the most affected regions in Southern Somalia. As a result, Wajid, with its high water table, has been attracting people from outlying areas. The Wajid clinic, supported by UNICEF and run by an international NGO, has also attracted a higher than usual number of patients and seen many more cases of child malnutrition.

There, Shubeb was found to be anemic and his liver enlarged. An enlarged liver is a symptom of kwashiorkor: a serious syndrome caused by malnutrition which results in the weakening of a child’s body and metabolism. Kwashiorkor is also characterized by oedema, poor immune function and sometimes, even congestive heart failure.

Being undernourished is not unusual for many children in Somalia. They survive on a poor diet of sorghum or maize porridge 2-3 times a day. Now milk – from camels and goats – is also in short supply because of the drought. Vegetables and fruit are rarely available. For, Shubeb, like so many others nutritionally unbalanced diet over a prolonged period will cause their resistance to go down. Any available water is likely to be of poor quality causing diarrhoea. The resultant loss of appetite will make children even more malnourished. It is a vicious cycle.

At the clinic, Shubeb received basic health care to treat his diarrhea and fever. His family also received UNIMIX – a nutritious fortified flour to supplement the diet to help him recover fully.

Because malnourished children are at higher risk of disease, UNICEF is working with WHO to step up measles immunization and Vitamin A supplementation to prevent a major outbreak of this potentially life-threatening disease.

There are hundreds of children like Shubeb in southern Somalia. Their families are all hoping that the ‘Gu’ rains will fall in mid-April. In the meantime, UNICEF and its partners are helping to alleviate the effects of the drought by expanding therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes, expanding borehole coverage in the most vulnerable community areas, providing water and sanitation services and working to reduce the potential for abuse and exploitation of children resulting from loss of income, movement of people and competition for very limited resources across borders.

To reduce school absenteeism and dropout, UNICEF is also supporting the provision of water tanks to schools and the distribution of school tents and education kits.



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