Three months after Nigerien authorities suspended the activities of the French section of MSF, the organization is calling for an immediate resumption of its nutritional operations in Maradi.
"The situation in the field is very troubling," said Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, MSF's President in France. "Despite all their efforts, the health care staff in the hospitals and health centers I visited cannot respond to the influx of malnourished children."
When MSF's work was suspended, nearly 3,400 malnourished children were under treatment and 500 new children were being admitted weekly. This interruption occurred during the most critical time of year - the lean period. MSF estimates that nearly 8,000 severely malnourished children should have been treated in feeding centers in the Madarounfa and Guidan Roumdji districts during those three months.
Many children currently require treatment yet, so far, no one has been able to offer an adequate alternative to the medical treatment that MSF provided in the Maradi region. Despite the urgency of the situation, MSF France has still not been authorized to resume its activities.
This prohibition against treating malnourished children contrasts strongly with the Nigerien government's policy of fighting malnutrition in recent years. Considerable progress has been made, including the adoption of a new protocol increasing the number of children treated and the development of local production of ready-to-use therapeutic foods. These advances contradict the attitude of certain Nigerien decision makers today who tend to minimize - if not deny - the existence of malnutrition hotspots in the country.
Effective treatment does exist and has been used in Niger for several years, resulting in a sharp reduction of mortality related to childhood malnutrition. Today, many malnourished children in urgent need in the Maradi region are unable to benefit from such treatment.
"Over the last few years, we have carried out innovative and effective programs in collaboration with Nigerien authorities," Dr. Allié noted. "Given the seriousness of the situation today, we are asking them to allow us to resume our activities in Maradi immediately so that we can treat malnourished children."
MSF has been working in Niger since 2001 and carries out 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.