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MSF in Niger, 2008
Field Staff: 1810
Reason for Intervention:
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Between May and the October harvest every year, Nigerians face a ‘hunger gap’. Families exhaust their food reserves and their health deteriorates as malnutrition starts to take its toll.
In 2008, the health authorities took steps to fight malnutrition by registering as essential medicines a ready-to-use, vitamin-enriched paste, and therapeutic milks. New growth standards established by the World Health Organization that allow malnourished children to be identified and treated at an earlier stage were also adopted.
Providing nutritional support
MSF has been running programs to combat malnutrition since 2001. In 2008, teams worked with the national and local health authorities in the regions of Maradi, Zinder, and Tahoua—in Madaoua and Bouza.
MSF treated some 97,600 children under five years old who were moderately or severely malnourished. Other high-risk groups, such as pregnant and lactating women, were also targeted for nutritional care. Care is provided mostly through a network of more than 40 mobile nutritional centers, which allow children to be treated closer to where they live. Many are treated at home with ready-to-use food and come to the center once a week for a check-up while their families collect further supplies. This approach makes it possible to treat a large number of children with good results: in Zinder, for example, the cure rate reached 72 percent in 2008.
As well as treating malnutrition and associated health problems such as diarrhea, MSF provides medicines to fight malaria, which is endemic in certain regions, and primary healthcare consultations in outpatient units. More than 100,000 children attended such consultations in the districts of Madaoua and Bouza in theTahoua region, and in Dakoro in 2008.
The health of young children especially deteriorates during the seasonal hunger gap, when the quality of their diet worsens and the quantity of food available diminishes. Each year, the number of admissions to feeding centers grows markedly between June and October. To prevent children from becoming severely malnourished, MSF distributed a supplementary nutritive paste to 30,000 children aged from six to 36 months in villages around Maradi and Zinder each month during the lean period. This preventive project initiated in 2007 had promising results, sharply reducing the incidence of severe malnutrition in the targeted areas.
In July, the authorities decided to suspend MSF’s activities, although teams had worked in the country for more than eight years on emergency programs devoted particularly to nutrition. The authorities wanted to reintegrate nutrition into the national program and avoid independent interventions and publicity about the problem. After two months of discussions however, MSF was able to partially restart its activities.
Responding to emergencies
MSF continues to respond to emergencies and carry out vaccination campaigns. Between April and May, during a seven-week intervention in Zinder and Maradi regions, teams vaccinated about 700,000 children aged from six months to 15 years against measles. MSF also supported national health structures to help care for children affected by the disease. In the districts of Birni N’Konni, Bouza, and Madaoua, MSF cooperated with ministry of health staff to vaccinate some 437,000 people against meningitis. Starting in September, MSF also supported the treatment of cholera at the Birni N’Konni district hospital following a surge in the number of people contracting the disease. In Agadez, a region affected by the conflict between the government and Touareg rebels, MSF supports maternity services in three health centers.
MSF has worked in Niger since 1985.