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In Chad, 102,000 severely malnourished children in need of life-saving care

© UNICEF/Chad/2010/Gangale
Eta is testing Hissene's appetite, If a severely malnourished child still has appetite, he will be treated at home, with a weekly visit at the nutritionnal center.

Moussoro, Chad, 10 May 2010 - There was no question that Hissène needed treatment when he arrived at the nutrition center of Moussoro town.

He is a child in the ‘red zone’, meaning that he is severely malnourished. 

He is one of the 102,000 severely malnourished children of Chad who will need life-saving care in 2010.

Fatimé, the alert nutrition worker who welcomes the children, immediately recognized the signs. 

 “This child is malnourished”, she said, almost as soon as Eta uncovered her son. The window on the bracelet she used to measure the circumference around Hissene’s upper arm showed red. It was confirmation.

Acute malnutrition over 15%
And Hissène is not an isolated case in Chad in 2010. 

In Moussoro, the capital of Bar-El-Ghazel province, acute malnutrition among children has been above emergency thresholds (15%) for a decade. But this year will be far worse. People have already sued their food stocks and, when cattle are dying and crops are poor, more children suffer from malnutrition.

Since January this year the nutrition centers that UNICEF supports, like the one of Moussoro town, have admitted twice the usual number of malnourished children.

Outpatient nutrition centers
Hissène was screened in his village. Since April 2009, a network to fight malnutrition has been established in Chad with community level screening and outpatient nutrition centers.

Mobile teams are going to the villages. They train and supervise volunteers chosen by the community to detect malnutrition and to refer affected children to the outpatient nutrition centres. These centres took care of more than 9,000 children in 2009. To meet the crisis 44 new centres will open in 2010. They may have 50,000 children to save in the Sahelian belt of Chad.

As Eta was waiting, the small room filled up with mothers and children. Eta brought Hissène to the outpatient nutrition center on a Saturday morning, the day of the therapeutic food distribution. Children suffering from severe and acute malnutrition need specialist feeding and medical care to recover. In this center, mothers are given therapeutic food for their child every week.

Test of appetite
After his assessment Hissène and his mother are sent to another room where 4 other children are waiting. When the room is full, a nutrition officer explains what is going to happen.

When the mothers and the children have washed their hands with soap, each child receives a bag of ready-to-use therapeutic food.

If he eats all or part of it within an hour, the child can be treated here once a week. Otherwise, the damaged appetite has to be restored in the therapeutic feeding center of the hospital.

At first Hissène, who seems weak, coughs and refuses the mixture. But Eta keeps on trying, putting some of the peanut butter like substance of her finger for him.  Hissène finally swallows and stops frowning.

Hissène, out of the red zone
Apparently it does not taste so bad after all. Hissène has been sick for about two months but Eta didn’t have the money to bring him to town. Yesterday, the mobile team told her to go to Moussoro.

So, this morning, at dawn, Eta left with Hissène. Her husband stayed with their four other children and their small herd of kids cattle in their village, 5 kilometers away.

When asked if life is difficult this year, Eta just nods and smiles. They have to sell their goats, and “at give away prices”. A goat will soon cost the price of a 100 kg bag of maize, the only food the household can afford. But this is not enough for young children who need more nutriments.

What will they do if they sell all their goats? Eta smiles again. “I don’t know. We live day by day, and hope. Maybe, if you tell the world what is going on here, they will help us.”

Hissène grabs the brightly coloured bag containing the feed and cries in despair, He wants more. Eta smiles. Hissène won’t need to go to the hospital. Next Saturday, Eta will travel at dawn again to Moussoro. Her baby has discovered a sweet tooth and will soon get better.

By Anne Fouchard



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