The dual threat of Boko Haram and malnutrition in north-east Nigeria

A mother stranded in a forest struggles to feed her newborn daughter as thousands more live on the brink of a famine

By Harriet Dwyer
Falta and her daughter
UNICEF Nigeria/2017

28 February 2017

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, 28 February 2017 – Boko Haram killed Falta’s husband in the middle of the night. She was forced to flee into the forest. She was three months pregnant at the time, with three young children in tow.

Since the brutality of that evening, Falta has been stranded in the forest with neighbours from her village, Konduga. Their family lost everything, and she has been trying to survive by cultivating a small farm that barely yields enough to sustain her and her children. 
After four months of living in the forest, widowed and away from her family, Falta was forced to give birth without any medical care.

Her painful ordeal did not end there. Her neighbours soon started to notice that Falta was unwell. She was unable to nourish her baby, Maita, on the little amount of breast milk she was able to produce. Volunteer Community Mobilizers (VCMs) who were checking on the displaced community became alarmed at the failing health of Falta and her baby. By now Maita was severely malnourished and Falta was distressed.

A close-up photo of a woman in Nigeria.
UNICEF Nigeria/2017
A lifeline for baby Maita

Eventually the VCMs called for assistance from a special clinic set up for malnourished children in Maiduguri. They collected Falta and took her into immediate care. It has been 13 days since they arrived in the clinic and baby Maita is showing promising signs of recovery.

The health workers and other mothers gave special care to Falta and her baby. Falta is now able to begin to address her own health problems, but her displacement will make it difficult for her to access more comprehensive health care. She also longs to return home to her other three children. She doesn’t know how they are faring in the care of neighbours, and without any support to work through the trauma they have endured.

Baby Maita is one of nearly 160,000 children under the age of 5 who have been able to receive treatment for severe acute malnutrition in the last year. Although there have been some successes in reaching communities in need, many families in north-east Nigeria are still in the grip of a food crisis, teetering on the brink of famine. It is estimated that numbers of severely acutely malnourished children will reach 450,000 this year, just in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

For Falta the immediate prognosis is positive. She will be discharged soon with several weeks supply of therapeutic feeding for little Maita. She will return home to her temporary farm in the forest and make sure her other children are receiving the care they need.

After all that has happened to her and her family, Falta still manages to looks to the future. “I hope that peace will return soon to Nigeria” she says, “and I can go home to my village with my family.”

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