An Everyday Emergency: Fighting Malnutrition in Rural Niger
I’m in Niger, visiting our nutrition and food security programs in Mayahi, a rural area of Maradi region, with Ousmane, our Advocacy Officer for Niger. As we drive through the hustle and bustle of Maradi, the nation’s commercial capital, it’s strange to think that this region also has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the country. After a 30-minute drive, however, the scenery changes: the paved road, shops, houses, and cars are replaced by sand, trees, and straw huts. Here, I get my first glimpse of the challenges of living and working in rural Niger.
The next morning, we join the team at Mayahi district hospital, where we work with the Ministry of Health to support inpatient care for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. There are 53 children receiving treatment here, and as I accompany the doctor on his rounds, I speak with some of their families.
I talk to Mabaruka, whose daughter is in intensive care—at four months old, she weighs only six pounds. Mabaruka tells me she’s had trouble nursing. At first she sought traditional remedies, but they were expensive and ineffective. When her daughter continued to lose weight, local health center staff referred her to the hospital. Since arriving nine days ago, the nurses have helped Mabaruka with breastfeeding, and her daughter is receiving much-needed treatment.
I also talk to Alima, who brought her granddaughter Baru from a village about 20 miles away. Baru has been sick for two weeks with diarrhea and vomiting. When Alima brought her to their local health center, the staff explained that Baru was suffering from malaria and malnutrition, and needed to be hospitalized. When they arrived at the hospital, Alima thought Baru would die. But after just six days in the hospital, she’s doing much better. She can even sit up and feed herself.
We leave the hospital to visit some communities where we’re providing food security and livelihoods assistance. Farmers explain the many difficulties they face: growing families, land scarcity, and limited access to clean water, to name a few. Fortunately, our livelihoods projects are helping. We’ve distributed livestock to herders, helped farmers store their produce for the lean season, and provided cash transfers so vulnerable families can buy food.
Malnutrition is an everyday emergency that claims thousands of lives each year. For example, in 2013—a non-food crisis year—more than 350,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition in Niger. The people I’ve had the privilege of speaking to during my time in Mayahi have given me insight into why the country struggles with malnutrition. Difficulty growing and buying food, limited access to healthcare and clean water, a lack of knowledge about nutrition, and poverty—among many other reasons—all contribute to high malnutrition rates. Though I’ve seen just a glimpse of the problem, one thing is clear: if we want to make a lasting difference in the fight against malnutrition, then we need to address its underlying causes.