Screening and treatment dealt with chronic needs An alarm was raised at the end of 2011 about an impending nutritional crisis in the Sahel region of Africa, and in particular in Mauritania and Senegal. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has aid projects in both countries and is now able to report that the anticipated serious crisis did not take place. Pierre-Vincent Jacquet, MSF head of mission in Dakar at the beginning of the year and then in Nouakchott from mid-August to the beginning of October, explains.
What was the nutritional situation in Mauritania this year? Compared to previous years, while 2012 did see an increase in malnutrition, it was relatively small, and the country did not end up with a nutritional crisis. The situation was not as acute as had been anticipated. MSF intervened after the alarm was raised by the United Nations at the end of 2011 warning of a looming nutritional crisis throughout the Sahel region, potentially threatening the lives of 1.2 million people. MSF decided for the first time to provide support with treatment for malnutrition in Mauritania but, as the crisis was not dramatic, the program was finished at the end of September. What did MSF's work involve? MSF decided to go to the Brakna region in the south of the country as this is where malnutrition is most prevalent. After a rapid evaluation, a project was opened in April in the town of Boghé, followed by a similar one in May a little further north in Makhta Lahjar. Hospital units were set up in both towns to treat children suffering from severe malnutrition and related illnesses. The teams visited neighbouring villages to screen for cases of malnutrition and provided out-patient treatment in 12 different locations. Children who needed hospital treatment were transferred to Boghé and Makhta Lahjar. While a peak was observed during the hunger season in July, this was followed by a decrease in the number of children requiring treatment. Then in September, the start of the rainy season in these livestock and crop-growing regions, the prevalence of malnutrition fell significantly. By Sept. 15, in the Brakna region the rate of severe acute malnutrition was 0.6 per cent and that of moderate acute malnutrition was 4.5 per cent; this means an overall rate of malnutrition of 5.1 per cent – well below the United Nation's emergency threshold of 15 per cent which requires intervention. And what was the situation in Senegal where MSF also ran malnutrition treatment programs? The picture was very similar to the one we saw in Mauritania, the only difference being that there was even less cause for alarm. An MSF team went to Djourbel and Matam, the most vulnerable regions. In the end, the malnutrition treatment program was limited to the Djourbel region where 385 children received out-patient treatment and 124 were admitted to hospital. Given that there was relatively little medical activity, the team focused on strengthening Ministry of Health capacity. As in Mauritania, MSF trained Ministry of Health personnel from health centres in screening and treating malnutrition and provided the necessary medical equipment.