More than 400 children admitted to hospital A constant stream of ambulances comes and goes at Guidan Roumji hospital in the Maradi region of southern Niger. Throughout the day, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team has been busy treating the many children weakened by malnutrition and malaria. Over the past few days, the number of children admitted to the hospital has risen from 117 to 430. “The intensive care and pediatric units are overwhelmed – we have an occupancy rate of 200 per cent,” says Mirko Tommasi, MSF’s head of mission in Niger.

Niger 2012 © Tanya Bindra/MSF
An MSF nurse inserts an intravenous drip into a malnourished child’s arm during a consultation at the hospital in the town of Guidan Roumji, Niger. Over the past few days, the number of children admitted to the hospital has risen from 117 to 430. “We were already treating lots of malnourished children but, with the start of the rainy season, there has also been a sudden peak in malaria cases. Nearly 80 per cent of the children admitted have malaria,” he says. The heavy rains, which started in July, have destroyed crops and grain reserves, making an already desperate food situation worse. Part of the Sahel region, food shortages are inevitable here in the ‘lean season’ between the May and September harvests. The rains have also led to a proliferation of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. When children in remote villages catch malaria, their condition often becomes serious before they can get to see a doctor. “Children with malaria often arrive too late, in a comatose state, owing to a lack of access to adequate healthcare in their villages,” says Véronique Van Frachen, MSF’s medical coordinator. “One of the reasons malaria is so deadly is that it can cause severe anemia, just like malnutrition,” Van Frachen. Malaria and malnutrition are a fatal combination . Malnourished children lack the strength to fight illness and so are more susceptible to complicated malaria. A malnourished child will have a greater risk of dying than a child who has enough to eat. Malnourished children who develop a severe form of malaria are treated in an inpatient unit for both illnesses. Malnutrition is treated with ready-to-use therapeutic food, while severe malaria is treated with an artesunate-based therapy. Every year, the people of Niger face recurring food crises, putting a tremendous strain on communities. Often people have barely recovered from one food crisis before the next strikes, forcing them to sell valuable possessions and run into debt in order to buy enough to eat. To reduce the cycle of malnutrition and associated diseases, MSF and Niger’s Ministry of Health are carrying out prevention work, including vaccination campaigns and the distribution of specific nutritional products and mosquito nets. Since the beginning of the year, more than 150,000 children throughout the country have received emergency treatment from humanitarian agencies. “To break this cycle of recurring emergencies, a long-term solution is needed, one that will improve access both to healthcare and to food suitable for young children,” says head of mission Tommasi. In Niger, MSF is carrying out medical and nutritional work in the regions of Tahoua, Maradi, Zinder and Agadez. More than 50,000 children with acute malnutrition and 105,000 cases of malaria have been treated since the beginning of the year in medical facilities managed by MSF and its partners.

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