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Nutritional Emergency in Niger

New York/Niamey, April 26, 2005 - In the face of increasing severe malnutrition in Niger, the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is significantly increasing its ability to provide assistance to people in the most affected regions. The number of malnourished children treated by MSF teams has reached unusually high levels for this period of the year, and an already alarming situation is rapidly worsening. MSF calls upon other agencies to mobilize.

Since January 2005, only three months after the last harvest, MSF has treated more than 3,000 severely malnourished children at its therapeutic feeding program in the town of Maradi, southern Niger. This rate of admissions is three times higher than for the same period in previous years.

Today, families are already suffering from a lack of food and the next harvest won’t occur until October. The overall nutritional situation for people in the region will only deteriorate further unless fast action is taken.

Because of the recent influx of patients, MSF has opened a second therapeutic feeding center (TFC) in Maradi and will open a third in the region of Tahoua. By mid-May, MSF will have 500 new beds available for the hospitalization of the most severely malnourished. A network of 13 consultation sites is also being set up to ensure medical and nutritional follow-up for children who are able to receive treatment on an out-patient basis.

To deal with this crisis, MSF is adapting its programs and increasing its response capacities, as MSF expects to treat 20,000 severely malnourished children in 2005 in feeding centers and consultation sites. In comparison, MSF treated 30,000 malnourished children worldwide in 2004. MSF will also distribute 850 tons of food rations to the families of children being treated by its medical teams. The first 40 tons arrived in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Monday April 18, 2005.

In order to better understand the scale of the needs, MSF is conducting nutritional surveys in the Maradi and Tahoua. MSF calls upon other agencies, though, to immediately mobilize resources to respond to the already existing nutritional crisis. The support MSF provides to malnourished children and families at risk can only have a meaningful impact if general food support programs are urgently put into place to support people in the affected areas.