On the shores of Lake Chad, UNICEF intensifies its fight against malnutrition
New Survey Shows 22 per cent of Children Suffer from Malnutrition in the Region
N’DJAMENA, CHAD – Usually considered a breadbasket for Chad, the region on the northern shore of Lake Chad is now affected by an extremely high malnutrition rate of children under five, almost 22 per cent, well beyond the emergency threshold.
“For years, we thought that with the lake, the region had many resources, food crops, corn, which explains the limited presence of aid workers here,” said Dr. Roger Sodjinou, UNICEF chief of Nutrition. “In reality, the nutrition surveys we’ve just conducted show a catastrophic situation, confirming that the causes of malnutrition are not limited to the issue of food insecurity.”
The results of this study were presented on 21 September to local authorities in Bol, the capital of this region where nearly 18,000 children under five are malnourished, including more than 4,600 severe malnutrition.
Local authorities did not expect to be amongst the areas of Chad most affected by malnutrition.
"Access to food is not a guarantee against malnutrition, food also needs to cover the nutritional needs of children and children need to have access to health care and appropriate hygiene and sanitation practices,” Dr. Roger Sodjinou stressed.
Children aged 6 to 29 months are the most affected by malnutrition, which corresponds to the period during which infants move from breast milk to often inappropriate diets.
Supporting local staff and raising awareness on this issue is therefore critical. The local health environment is marked by serious deficiencies in equipment and personnel, i.e. only one nurse for Bol’s hospital, a town of 40,000 inhabitants.
“I myself am forced to leave my job to run to the emergency or operating room and provide medical care,” says Regional Health Delegate, Raoul Djinguebey, who keeps his surgical gown constantly at hand on the back of his chair.
To alleviate the needs, UNICEF is extending the emergency strategy already in place elsewhere in the Sahel belt by developing a network of outpatient feeding centres (NAC) in the hardest to reach corners of the region. These centres will refer the most severe cases to a therapeutic feeding centre (TFC) that will be installed in Bol’s hospital in the upcoming weeks.
A nutrition expert will be deployed in the city, as well as in the other urban center of the region, Ngouri, to train all health personnel by mid-October to the screening and treatment of malnutrition.
Meanwhile, 20 cartons of Plumpy Nut, a dietary supplement used to treat severe acute malnutrition, and medicines were distributed to the regional delegation to cover the most urgent needs.
The screening of malnourished children is a crucial step in the fight against malnutrition, despite extremely poor infrastructure, no paved road and widely disseminated villages.
“Before, we did not track malnutrition, so we did not treat it,” explains Madou Adoum Bakama, a nurse at Health Centre Bol Urbain. “Today, we refer them immediately, even during National Immunization Days, so children can be treated.” He stresses that this strategy works in urban areas but that “obviously, in the bush, it’s always very complicated.”
“Reaching every child is obviously a challenge, both humanly, logistically and financially, but UNICEF intends to be present throughout the Sahel belt, where children continue to die from malnutrition,” insists Dr Francis Kampundu, Head of the Emergency unit emergency created specifically to respond to the most pressing crises in Chad.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
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