Field Report by Shushan Mebrahtu and Adamou Matti Dan Mallam
UNICEF Communication Specialist Shushan Mebrahtu and Communication Officer Adamou Matti Dan Mallam travelled into the field assess the situation of families, especially children and women, amid the Sahel region’s intensifying nutrition crisis. Their report follows.
AGUIE, Niger, 1 May 2012 – Two-and-half year old Oumarou Seydou sat motionless in his mother’s arms. He was not smiling or crying. He did not move.
That was four weeks ago, when we met Oumarou and his mother, Barira Saidou, in the UNICEF- supported intensive nutrition centre (CRENI, or ‘Centre de Récupération Nutritionnelle Intensive’) of Aguié’s town hospital in south-eastern Niger. Oumarou had just been admitted.
He is among the nearly 394,000 children in Niger who are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition. Their plight is part of the nutrition crisis gripping the Sahel region of West and Central Africa, the result of drought, poor harvests and rising food prices.
Seeking life-saving care
Ms. Saidou first brought Oumarou to the outpatient nutrition treatment centre in Kona, near their village, after he had begun experiencing diarrhoea and his feet and ankle started swelling. The staff in the centre referred him to the hospital for inpatient treatment.
At the hospital, a nurse evaluated Oumarou’s weight-to-height ratio. He weighed only 7.2 kg; a child of his height should weigh 8.8 kg. The result confirmed that he was suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Oumarou was additionally diagnosed with anaemia, oedema, malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections – complications of the malnutrition. All these indicators determined that Oumarou should be hospitalized for intensive care.
Week one: During the first four days, Oumarou received Formula 75, a kind of therapeutic milk, to restore his metabolic function. He was placed under strict a feeding schedule and was also given malaria drugs, zinc, antibiotics and other medicines to treat his complications.
At the end of the week, Oumarou slowly started to stabilize, with tests showing that his oedema had begun to disappear and that he was beginning to recover from the malaria. But Oumarou’s weight had dropped to a shocking 6.4 kg, a result of the fluid loss from his body. He looked wasted, with his skin stretched over his tiny bones.
Week two: Nine days after he was admitted, Oumarou began the transition phase of treatment, in which he was switched to Formula 100, another therapeutic milk, and ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF), which contained all the essential nutrients he needed. The nurse closely monitored his adjustment to the change. The results were promising: At the end of the second week, Oumarou had gained 0.8 kg.
Week three and four: Oumarou continued to receive six doses a day of RUTF, gaining an additional 0.8 kg. Ms. Saidou was thrilled to see her son feeling well and recovering. He was discharged from the CRENI, with plans to continue treatment at home using the RUTF. Arrangements were made for Oumarou to receive outpatient treatment at the centre in Kano.
“I never thought my son would make it. I already saw him dying,” said Ms. Saidou. “I was hopeless, but decided to give him the chance. We honored all the instructions the nurse gave and his condition has improved significantly.”
Committing to Oumarou’s future
Oumarou’s parents are dedicated to ensuring he makes a full recovery – and that he stays healthy.
Ms. Saidou had travelled 55 km to bring her son to the CRENI. While there, she attended sessions on appropriate child feeding practices, how to prepare nutritious foods, the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, improved hygiene practices, and the proper use of malaria nets.
“I am committed to put the lessons into practice and follow-up the outpatient treatment until my son is fully recovered,” she said before leaving the hospital.
Ms. Saidou stayed in the CRENI for four weeks, leaving her other three children behind in the care of her husband, who visited Oumarou at the CRENI five times. “If it is not for his support, my son wouldn’t have survived,” said Ms. Saidou.
UNICEF urgently requires additional funding to procure enough essential medicines and therapeutic food and milk and to hire the extra health staff needed to save the lives of children at risk.