Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another critical year in Niger

Niger suffered through a severe food shortage last year. Over half of the country faced starvation and malnutrition. The harvests that came late that year did help food security, but Niger needs another good harvest in 2011 to ward any further trouble.

From the Mail and Guardian, Philippe Latour of Medecins Sans Frontieres talks about how one of their health clinics helped out during the famine.

Gueza's Integrated Health Centre is one of the few concrete buildings in the village. There are few consultations and MSF has packed up its outpatient nutrition education and rehabilitation centre for cases of severe malnutrition.

It is hard to imagine that three months ago some 300 children were treated by the MSF team here. It is the young Mamane Bashir, the centre manager, who greets me.

Malnutrition exacerbated by malaria
"The rains came very early this year and the malnutrition situation was exacerbated by malaria, which hit the weakest children. Last August we treated around 600 children, compared with just a hundred or so in August 2009. This is also linked to MSF's presence, which ensured that the medicines and therapeutic foods didn't run out," says Bashir.

In Zinder and Magaria, the main towns in this region of Niger, at the end of December, there were still some 200 children in the intensive hospitalisation centres set up for the serious cases of malnutrition. However, these facilities -- rows of beds under large tents -- now seem relatively empty. At the height of the nutritional crisis, in August and September, more than 800 children were treated there, the majority of them on the brink of death.

Kelima, 32 years old and a mother of four, took her youngest child, Djamilou, aged 15 months, to the Zinder centre in early December. The MSF doctor diagnosed him with severe anaemia combined with malaria. After being given a drip and then fed therapeutic foods, he gradually gained weight. Two weeks later he is smiling and waving his hands when spoken to.

"Soon we'll be able to go back to the village" says Kelima. "But this year, it was really too difficult to feed the children; there were only a few handfuls of millet for the whole family."

"Unfortunately, 2010 was the year that broke every record," says Dr Moïse Moussa Gabrial, head of the Magaria centre. "Since January 2010 we've seen more than 6 200 children. At the end of August, we had around 500 hospitalised children. We had planned to recruit and train medical staff, but the situation was so bad that we had to hire people locally and train them on the job.

"At the height of the malnutrition crisis, 280 people were working for MSF at the intensive malnutrition centre. And tragically, we saw the deaths of many children -- 133 in September alone -- who had arrived in a desperate nutritional state and were often suffering from malaria."

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