Samuel Hauenstein Swan

Tackling life-threatening child malnutrition in Chad 

Samuel Hauenstein Swan

Chad, in West Africa, has suffered prolonged droughts, poor harvest and most recently, devastating floods.  These ‘weather shocks’ have exacerbated an already chronic food crisis and one in every four childrenunder 5 suffers from acute malnutrition in the west of the country. 

Without life-saving treatment, many ofthose who go on to develop ‘Severe Acute Malnutrition’ are at immediate risk ofdying. Through the West AfricaHumanitarian Response Fund, the UK’s Department for International Development(DFID) is funding partners such as Action Against Hunger (ACF) to help respondto these humanitarian crises across West Africa. 

In Bhar El Ghazal, DFID’s funding allows ACF to run mobile clinics to help identify andtreat severely malnourished children and run an Emergency NutritionalProgramme.

2 year-old Achtor is severely malnourished. She and her grandmother, from drought-stricken western Chad, live in poverty and struggle to get enough food. But Achtor is one of the lucky ones. Her acute malnutrition has been caughtand is being treated before it develops into life-threatening ‘Severe Acute Malnutrition’.

Chad, in West Africa, has suffered prolonged droughts, poor harvest and most recently, devastating floods. These ‘weather shocks’have exacerbated an already chronic food crisis and one in every four children under 5 suffers from acute malnutrition in the west of the country.

Achtor’s 75 year-old grandmother, Fatima, looks after the little girl since her mother left.  “Achtor is a child that catches illnesses quickly.  She is cryingas she’s hungry and wants to eat.” Before Achtor was diagnosed and put on treatment, two handfuls of maize had to last both of them two days.

Achtor’s great-uncle Suliman, Fatima’s brother, says that last year was not good.  There was no pasture and 6 out of 10 ofhis camels died.  And only one ofthe survivors is a female, which means that restocking will take a long time,so there’s no spare money.

Suliman’s small millet fieldwill probably produce just 2 to 3 bags, which will only last them for 3 or 4months.  “The rains have stopped after a good start in June and now it is too dry for growing. Many shoots remain too small to give yields.”

To alleviate the chronic food insecurity and acute malnutrition, charities like Action Against Hunger (ACF) run mobile clinics, where they assess and identify the nutritional status of children like Achtor and treat them. It’s part of the West Africa Humanitarian Response Fund, which is fundedby the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

At this mobile clinic,children are weighed and measured and given the ‘appetite test’.  Those who have acute malnutrition, butstill have an appetite, are given ready-to-use therapeutic foods   Those who have lost their appetite and have life-threatening Severe Acute Malnutrition and additional medical issues are sent to a regional hospital for intensive care.

Whilst Western Chad frequently experiences high acute malnutrition rates during the “hunger gap” season (a period of routine scarcity between harvests) the last two years have been particularly harsh.  Some people are resorting to diluting leftovers of burnt millet porridge given tothem by neighbours to feed their families.

The Emergency Aid Programme is directly treating 8,000 severely malnourished children as well as implementing nutrition and health awareness-raising activities to some 214,000 household members across 580 villages in the region in partnership with the Chad Ministry of Health.

This clinic in Mossouro town is where cases of severe acute malnutrition are handled. UKaid through DFID has funded the establishment of ACF’s Emergency Nutritional Programme in the Bahr el Ghazal region of western Chad.

Severe acute malnutrition canbe fatal if left untreated. This little girl has been taken to the clinic in Mossouro where she is receiving specially formulated micronutrient-enriched food and other medical support.

The food crisis continues, 6 out of 10 household in Western Chad yields are notsufficient to sustain them through out the year.  The UK’s Department for International Development provides support to experienced organisations such as Action Against Hunger, UNICEF andthe World Food Programme to help. It is also the biggest contributor to the UN administered Central Emergency Response Fund.

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