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Maina, the nurse who fights malnutrition in the Chadian desert

© UNICEF/Chad/2010/Gangale
Maina is a nurse and he is in charge of Mao's therapeutic feeding center in the Kanem region in Chad. With support from UNICEF, his dedicated work saves the lives of many children.

Mao, Chad, 08 June 2010 - Mahamat Abakar Sedik is a nurse and he is in charge of Mao’s therapeutic feeding centre in the Kanem region of Chad. Although it misses equipment and qualified staff, the team is working hard to save children’s life and to fight against malnutrition.

When he comes to you with a warm smile and shakes your hand with a vivid energy, you first notice his long and thin figure in immaculate white trousers and tunic.  Then he starts speaking, and you notice the man has a lot to say.

Mao is the capital of Kanem, in the Sahelian belt of Chad, a landlocked region where living conditions are tough.

The 266,000 inhabitants of Kanem mostly live from agriculture and breeding and a majority is nomadic. Kanem is not rich: in August 2008, a WFP survey revealed a rate o food vulnerability of 53% in the region.

The outside temperature is close to 50 degrees, and a sand storm shakes the makeshift hospitalization ward of the therapeutic feeding centre settled in the main hospital of the region.

Doing a lot with little means
Maina, as his colleagues call him, was born in August 1968 in Mao. He studied in N’Djamena, the capital, to become a nurse. He wanted to dedicate to the most vulnerable and weak children. So he came back to the regional capital of Kanem after his studies, and nowadays, Maina is the focal point of nutrition in Mao’s health area. He manages a therapeutic feeding centre where equipment and qualified staff are often missing.

They don’t have an oxygen machine or a warm room for new-born underweight children; they don’t even have an ambulance for the hospital. But at least, says Maina, they get their F-75, F-100 and RUTF (ready to use therapeutic food) for the malnourished kids, “thanks to UNICEF”.

Maina is not a man who complains about his living or working conditions: with very little means, he and his team are doing their best to cure the monthly average of 30 children who are admitted in the TFC in very bad shape. He shows the picture of the children as they arrived nearly dying to the centre, and proudly compares them to the children who are still weak, but recovering.

The therapeutic feeding centre takes care of severely malnourished children who also suffer from a disease or who have lost their appetite. These children need medical surveillance and care. Severely malnourished children are those whose weight for height is under 70%, or those with bilateral edemas in the feet, hands and face.

From his small feeding centre in the middle of the desert, and although his signature is rarely mentioned at the bottom of the publications, Maina contributed to the most prominent researches on nutrition, working with the most well-known nutrition specialists around the globe... “Did you know André Briend came to Mao?” Maina asks.

“His” TFC was one of the places where the ready-to-use therapeutic food, which allowed a revolution in nutrition treatments, was tested in the 1990s. The fact is that, in Mao, like in the whole country, it is easy to find malnourished children:  malnutrition rates have been above the emergency thresholds of 15% for a decade.

Scaling up the response capacity
Maina would love to do more in his modest TFC, but he is already satisfied: things have improved in Kanem since April 2009. With the support of UNICEF who provides therapeutic food, over 40 outpatient nutrition centres are now operational and, with the 3 therapeutic feeding centres, can save many children’s lives.

In a crisis situation such as the one expected in 2010, this new relief program gives some hope to better handle children’s malnutrition. As 2 million people are to badly suffer from the food crisis (more than one in 5 people) and 102,000 severely malnourished children will need life-saving treatment this year in the country, “vulnerability is affecting every one here, even the public servants. We all are vulnerable, in Chad.” Maina says.

By Anne Fouchard





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