French section of MSF forced to leave Niger
30 October 2008
Paris/Niamey - On July 18, 2008, the Niger government terminated, suddenly and without explanation, the medical and nutritional activities of the French section of MSF in the Maradi region. This decision has had grave consequences on mortality among young children. Over the last three months, MSF has made every effort to determine the reasons for this suspension, clarify its medical work and redefine, with the Niger authorities, the modes of its intervention. On October 21, in Niamey, in the face of the government's refusal to authorize MSF to resume its activities, MSF called on the President of the Republic to arbitrate. We have received only silence in response. The French section of MSF has thus chosen to take formal note of the government's position that "MSF leave". The cessation of MSF's activities has occurred at the most difficult time of year for young children — between the harvests, when malnutrition rises, and the height of the malaria season. On the suspension date, more than 3,000 children were undergoing treatment and 500 new children were admitted into the program weekly. In addition, the latest nutritional survey, conducted in June 2008 by the government and UNICEF, estimated the number of children in the Maradi region suffering from acute malnutrition at between 35,000 and 67,000. These official statistics contradict the Nigerien government's publicly stated reasons for its decision to suspend the organization's activities in Maradi. "Maradi is one of the regions in Niger most affected by malnutrition," explains Dr. Christophe Fournier, President of the MSF International Council. "Since MSF's activities in southern Maradi were halted, and despite an increase in admissions into other health centers and MSF projects in the surrounding areas, thousands of children are not receiving treatment. "Given significant advances in the field of malnutrition that now allows childhood malnutrition to be prevented and treated on a large scale, it is shocking that a government, after having allowed innovative programs to be established, would ignore the needs of thousands of children." The departure of the French section of MSF comes at a time when efforts to make progress in the fight against malnutrition are more possible — and necessary — than ever. Malnutrition is a preventable and treatable condition that must be recognized as a public health priority. Countries affected by malnutrition, like Niger, and international organizations have been slow to acknowledge the real possibilities offered by new, ready-to-use nutritional products. The United Nations does not recommend a specific approach for the major areas affected by malnutrition and mortality, such as Maradi, and limits the use of effective foods to the most severely undernourished children. Last, international funding for malnutrition remains sorely inadequate. MSF calls on the government, UNICEF and the World Food Program to take swift action in Maradi so that malnourished children receive treatment and on donors to establish an international policy and treatment approaches adapted to the major areas affected by malnutrition. Médecins Sans Frontières has been working in Niger since 2001 and operates malnutrition treatment programs in the Zinder, Maradi and Tahoua regions. Between early 2008 and mid-September, a total of 61,051 children suffering from acute malnutrition were admitted into MSF feeding centers. In collaboration with health authorities, Médecins Sans Frontières also provides epidemic response in Niger, treating patients and carrying out vaccination campaigns. In 2008, it responded to measles, meningitis and cholera epidemics. The MSF teams in Niger total 1,537 staff, including 1,468 Nigeriens.