NIGER EMERGENCY: MSF Calls for Free Food Distributions for People Most Affected by Malnutrition

New York/Paris, June 9, 2005 - In response to the nutritional crisis in Niger, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has more than tripled its capacity to treat severely malnourished children. Immediate provision of food aid is the only way to avoid a life threatening situation for thousands of already malnourished children.

Today, two months after MSF and other organizations launched emergency appeals, the response to the nutritional crisis in Niger is still vastly inadequate compared to the gravity of the situation.

A nutrition survey carried out by MSF and Epicentre at the end of April1 revealed that one child in five is suffering from global acute malnutrition in villages around the provinces of Maradi and Tahoua. MSF has treated over 6000 children under five suffering from severe malnutrition2 since the beginning of the year, double the number treated over the same period last year. Tens of thousands of children suffering from moderate malnutrition have no access to medical treatment.

In the district of Keita (Tahoua province) the survey revealed a severe acute malnutrition rate of 2.9% in children under five. In the villages of Loudou Ibatagatane and Wadey, MSF teams found the rate is over 6% - an exceptionally high rate that is very rare in a politically stable context.

At the end of April a nutrition survey revealed that mortality rates were already high: whereas the emergency mortality threshold for children under five is 2 deaths/10000 people/day, the mortality rate in the villages in the north of Maradi and Tahoua regions were 2.2 and 2.4.

This is the beginning of the most critical period in the year and, four months away from the next harvest, all the indicators are already in the red. The seasonal malaria and diarrhea peaks between June and October, combined with malnutrition, could be fatal for these children that are already weak. However, despite the seriousness of the crisis, people still have to pay for medical care and food, costs that the most vulnerable simply cannot afford.

In order to avoid further increase in child mortality rates in the coming weeks, exceptional emergency measures must immediately be implemented. This is why MSF is calling for free food distributions in the villages that are most affected by malnutrition.

The government of Niger has reacted to this crisis and reinforced its food aid initiatives. However the main measure implemented, the sale of cereals at reduced prices, concerns only very limited volumes. Furthermore, the lack of means to purchase food and the distant sale points mean that these operations are inaccessible to the majority of families most in need. Only the mobilization of institutional donors and international organizations, like WFP and UNICEF, can ensure the most vulnerable populations have free, direct access to food.

MSF has been working in Niger in the therapeutic feeding center of Maradi since 2001. This year, in response to the emergency, MSF has opened three new therapeutic feeding centers, one in Dakoro in the province of Maradi and two in Keita and Tahoua in the province of Tahoua. In addition, 27 ambulatory therapeutic feeding centers carry out screening and weekly treatment of children whose condition does not require hospitalization. The children in our severe malnutrition program receive, on top of therapeutic food, a weekly family food ration. At the end of their treatment, MSF distributes a one month food ration to each family (cereals, beans and oil).

1 At the end of April MSF/Epicentre visited over 1500 families representative of a population of 373000 people in 60 villages in the districts of Dakoro, Mayahi,Tessaoua (Maradi province) and Keita (Tahoua province).
2 Global acute malnutrition encompasses moderate malnutrition (weight/height ratio between 70% and 80% of the median) and severe malnutrition (weight/height ratio below 70% of the median). The teams weighed all the children who were present in the villages to calculate this rate.