Niger: Treatment and Prevention to Break the Cycle of Malnutrition

MSF and its local partners have treated 77,000 severely malnourished children in Niger this year and are distributing food supplements to 143,000 young children. To address a recurrent nutritional crisis, prevention is crucial.

Niamey, 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 this year in the 69 nutritional centers supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières(MSF) and its partners: Forum Santé Niger (FORSANI), and Bien-Être de la Femme et de l’Enfant au Niger (BEFEN/ALIMA). Since July, MSF has also been distributing food supplements to more than 143,000 young children to prevent them from 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,” said Patrick Barbier, MSF’s head of mission in Niger. “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 programs are still high, ranging from three to four percent. 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 more than 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 distributions are being implemented in five districts in collaboration with Nigerien organizations.

“Prevention is about finding the best way of stopping children from becoming severely malnourished year after year,” said Dr. Susan Shepherd, coordinator of MSF’s nutritional working group, “decreasing the medical, logistical, and financial burdens that are created by the treatment of so many sick children.”

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 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 centers and pediatric hospitals.