Niger: treatment and prevention to break the cycle of malnutrition
September 8, 2010
Every year, the population of Niger is affected by a nutritional crisis that peaks between May and September. The scale of the crisis in 2010 is particularly worrying. More than 77,000 children with severe malnutrition have already been treated in the 69 nutritional centres supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partners FORSANI (Forum Santé Niger) and BEFEN/ALIMA (Bien-être de la Femme et de l’Enfant au Niger) this year. Since July, MSF has also been distributing food supplements to over 143,000 young children to prevent them becoming malnourished. Quality preventive measures are crucial in dealing with the recurrent nutritional crisis in Niger.
“With the overwhelming number of severely malnourished children in need of treatment, the medical structures run by the Ministry of Health become overburdened. Those children are often in a critical health condition, which increases the risk of death. Even in the most optimistic scenario, mortality rates in nutritional programmes are still high, ranging from 3 to 4%”, said Patrick Barbier, MSF’s head of mission in Niger. “This is why preventing malnutrition is also crucial”.
In addition to providing treatment for children with severe malnutrition, MSF is distributing ready-to-use supplementary food to over 143,000 children. These products, containing milk, minerals and vitamins, are adapted to the nutritional needs of young children. The plan has been worked out with the Government of Niger, the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF and the distribution is being implemented in five districts in collaboration with Nigerien organisations.
“Prevention is about finding the best way of stopping children from becoming severely malnourished year after year, decreasing the medical, logistical and financial burdens that are created by the treatment of so many sick children”, said Dr. Susan Shepherd, Coordinator of MSF Nutritional working group.
The distribution of food supplements on a large scale this year represents a major positive change in the preventive response to the nutritional emergencies in Niger. However, the recurrent nature of the nutritional crisis in the country calls for these preventive strategies to be integrated into the fight against malnutrition on a more permanent basis.
MSF aims to work with its local and international partners to define the best product and the most effective long-term strategy to prevent malnutrition among young children in Niger.
MSF and its national partners BEFEN/ALIMA and FORSANI support 59 community-based nutritional centres and nine intensive nutritional rehabilitation centres in Tahoua, Maradi and Zinder regions. Together, they have admitted more than 77,000 children with severe malnutrition out of the 170 000 who received care in the country since the beginning of the year. In these regions as well as in Agadez, MSF provides free medical care for young children in primary health care centres and paediatric hospitals.