Over 100 children admitted within two weeks
“We have opened this center because the few facilities already run by the Ministry of Health and its partners were working at full capacity and were overwhelmed by the large numbers of severely malnourished children they were receiving,” explains Patient Kighoma, manager of the new MSF inpatient therapeutic feeding center in N’Djamena. “The children arrive in a very critical state and at this age, when they are so fragile, the worst can happen very quickly.”
The ITFC is divided enabling children to be cared for according to their condition. It includes an intensive care unit, where MSF staff stabilize the most critical patients who require constant medical supervision. They are too weak to swallow and are fed by a feeding tube from nose to stomach. Some are given respiratory assistance and intravenous fluids.
“Once they have been stabilized and regained their appetite, we give them therapeutic food like milk formulas, prepared by nutritionist assistants, or peanut-based paste. We also continue to treat them for any other diseases or complications,” says Kighoma.
Over 100 children have been hospitalized by the MSF team in Ndjari since the ITFC opened two weeks ago. When their condition improves, and they are discharged, these children continue treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic foods at home and have weekly check-ups at a health center, as part of an outpatient program.
Vulnerable families struggling to support themselves
The high levels of acute malnutrition seen every year in Chad are the result of many factors. This year in N'Djamena, the phenomenon has been amplified by a crisis in purchasing power, particularly severe seasonal food insecurity, and a public service strike affecting the health sector.
Unemployed laborers, out-of-work street sellers and seasonal migrants, under-paid or unpaid civil servants and white-collar workers—many families in the capital are affected, and not all of them have the means to adapt.
“My husband lost his job. He had not been paid for seven months. At the end of each month, when he was supposed to be paid, he was told, ‘come back tomorrow,’” says Fatima, whose second child, Bathradine, is being cared for at MSF's inpatient therapeutic feeding center.
Fatima's family first sought new opportunities in the south of the country, but they returned to N'Djamena empty-handed. Then they sold their valuables, carpets, curtains, and mats, and still they were unable to pay the rent. The owner of their home seized what belongings they had left.
“When I find a little money, I buy and sell small goods at the market to feed my children. There is not much to eat at home right now: no rice, no flour, some potatoes. But I can’t buy more,” Fatima worries.
About 33 yards from the MSF inpatient therapeutic feeding center stand huts made of sheet metal, bits of old cars, and other recycled materials, on what is known as “reserve” land. That is, land seized by the authorities and frozen for future use, on which people whose property has been expropriated; people arriving from the countryside seeking odd jobs in the capital; and others who don’t have means to settle elsewhere build temporary settlements with what they can find.
Zenaba, a young woman in her 20s, has lived here for two years since leaving Mongo, a small city in the Guera region in central Chad.