Nigeria. Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘Significant increase in malnourished children in Borno State’

by Maurizio Debanne *

The MSF teams in action at the Maiduguri Therapeutic Feeding Center in northeastern Nigeria have witnessed a large influx of malnourished children since May. The fear is that a food crisis may develop in this city that houses many displaced people due to the armed conflict that has affected the state of Borno for years. Médecins Sans Frontières calls for a rapid increase in humanitarian efforts in the area before the most severe period of food shortages occurs, which could be much more serious than in previous years if current trends continue.
“It is important to act now, before the peak of seasonal malnutrition, to prevent the situation from getting worse,” said Shaukat Muttaqi, MSF’s Head of Mission in Nigeria. “We are only at the beginning of the lean season and our facility is already crowded with more patients than the monthly arrivals in 2017 when we started operations. Past trends warn us that the worst is yet to come. If not taken emergency measures, the people of Maiduguri will suffer fatal consequences ”.
2,140 malnourished children admitted this year to MSF Therapeutic Nutrition Center, about 50% more than in the same period in 2021. Between May and June, over six weeks, despite the peak of the food shortage period just begun, more malnourished patients arrived than at any other time since the opening of the project, even compared to the peak periods of previous years. In May, Médecins Sans Frontières’ outpatient therapeutic feeding program saw a 25% increase in hospital admissions compared to last year.
The capacity of MSF’s therapeutic nutrition center was increased from 120 to 200 beds, and despite this emergency measure, there were not enough beds for all the hospitalized children for a few days in June.
Other humanitarian organizations have also operated beyond their capabilities and in some cases have had to cut back on services due to lack of funds, which has closed 16 therapeutic feeding centers. If current trends continue, services will be overwhelmed and many more malnourished children are at risk of dying.
“There is an urgent need to increase hospital capacity to treat severely malnourished children along with a larger escalation of community-based interventions to avoid a potential worst-case scenario,” said MSF Muttaqi. “This means expanding outpatient feeding programs, food safety, vaccinations and access to water and sanitation.”
In the state of Borno, malnutrition is a chronic and complex concern exacerbated by the effects of displacement, insecurity, poverty, lack of access to health care, combined with other destructive factors, especially for children. Historically, it is most acute between late June and early September in the lean season, which is the period between sowing and harvest.
Periodic outbreaks, such as measles and cholera, as well as seasonal outbreaks of malaria, can further aggravate the situation. Last year, Nigeria was hit by an unusual cholera epidemic with alarming vaccination rates among children in the state of Borno, where access to health care is a daily challenge, especially for the displaced.
“My children, if not at birth, have never been vaccinated. The 4-year-old gets sick every year during the rainy season. There are no free medical facilities in our area, so I take him to the pharmacy, where I also take the medicine.” says Hussaina Ali, whose youngest son is being treated at the therapeutic feeding center.
The cumulative impact of years of conflict and insecurity continues to cause displacement, undermining people’s ability to grow food and access health care. In addition, rising food prices are putting displaced people to the test. In Médecins Sans Frontières’ treatment center, 32% of hospitalized malnourished children belong to families of internally displaced persons who are dependent on humanitarian aid.
“As the traditional peak of the lean season approaches, Borno is on the brink of a crisis that could endanger the lives of thousands of children,” said Dr. Htet Aung Kyi, Médecins Sans Frontières Medical Coordinator in Nigeria. “There is no time to lose. There is now a need for a rapid increase in the nutritional response, and humanitarian organizations must be better prepared at the top. Malnutrition must be tackled by increasing the medical response, but also by preventing threats to health. such as measles, cholera and other epidemics of infectious diseases ”.

* Press Office for Médecins Sans Frontières.

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