Alarming malnutrition situation in children in southern Ethiopia brings immediate outreach programmes to increasing needs

Addis Ababa - There are 11,800 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition who have been admitted to MSF programmes in the Oromiya and Southern Nations and Nationalities People's (SNNP) regions of southern Ethiopia. In certain areas, poor rainfalls, high food prices, as well as low purchase power and other factors have led to an alarming situation.

"Given the size of this emergency, the primary focus of MSF teams has been to try and save severely malnourished children, who are the most at risk," said Jean de Cambry, MSF Emergency Coordinator. "Now we are starting to care for moderately malnourished children as well."

Supplementary food rations - made up of a corn and soja blend with oil and sugar - are being given every two weeks to moderately malnourished children and their families.

Targeted food distributions also started this week in 12 locations in Siraro district, Oromiya region.

"During one week, our teams will distribute 25 kgs of food rations to an estimated 12,500 children who are either moderately malnourished or at risk of malnutrition," explained Abdel Kader Tlidjane, MSF Coordinator in Siraro. "We hope this will protect them from falling into severe malnutrition and keep them healthy."

In the meantime, MSF is continuing its work in five stabilisation centres both in Oromiya and SNNP regions, where medical teams provide 24-hour medical care to severely malnourished children suffering from complications such as malaria or pneumonia.

In order to treat as many children as possible, a network of 47 outreach therapeutic programs (OTPs) provide therapeutic food and medical care on an outpatient basis. So far 10,062 children have been cared for in the OTPs and an additional 1,724 had to be hospitalised in the MSF stabilisation centres. A total of 121 children have died after their admission to the nutritional programme.

"While the rhythm of weekly admissions is stabilising in certain areas, in others such as Shashemene and Shalla districts of Oromiya region, and Kindo Dindaye, Kacha Bira, Hadero, and Tambaro districts of SNNP region, we keep admitting more patients from one week to the other," said de Cambry. "In Kambata zone, we had the past three weeks 734; 1,143; and 1,300 new weekly admissions. We really cannot foresee when it will slow down."

In some areas of SNNP region, the number of severely malnourished children treated by MSF strikingly reaches up to 11 percent of the total population aged under five years old - MSF usually starts a nutritional programme if three percent are found. In several areas, MSF teams have also cared for a number of malnourished adults, which is a worrying sign.

As operations are intensifying, MSF workers also continue to explore six new areas of the Oromiya and SNNP regions, where the nutritional situation is reportedly serious. They will open new therapeutic programmes where needed. In addition, an MSF medical team is providing support to a hospital in Chencha Gonogofa, where 77 children suffering from acute malnutrition have been admitted.

MSF has worked in Ethiopia since 1984. In addition to the nutritional emergency, MSF is running long-term programs in several regions of the country. In the eastern Somali region, MSF treats patients suffering from tuberculosis and provides primary healthcare in Cherrati. MSF also runs primary healthcare programs in Deghabur and Wardher, including a nutritional component.

In the north of the country; MSF works in Humera, Tigray region, providing care and treatment for people with Kala Azar. Further, in Abdurafi, Amhara region, MSF runs a program for prevention, care and treatment of Kala Azar and HIV/AIDS.