N’Djamena – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has opened a therapeutic feeding centre in partnership with the Ministry of Health, to respond to the plight of thousands of under-five-year-olds in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. The few facilities which already provide treatment to children with acute malnutrition are completely overwhelmed by the number of patients.
Endemic in N’Djamena and the rest of the country all year round, acute malnutrition has now reached alarming proportions in N’Djamena. This is due to the cumulative effect of a decline in people’s purchasing power, particularly severe seasonal food insecurity, and a public workers’ strike that is impacting the health sector.
The latest survey coordinated by Chad’s Ministry of Health in July 2017 already showed malnutrition rates among children in N’Djamena to be above the emergency thresholds. But since January this year, the number of severely malnourished children hospitalised in Chad-China Friendship Hospital has risen 45 per cent compared with the same period in 2017. The hospital, which NG0 Alima supports, has admitted up to 170 sick and severely malnourished children, many more than the number of patients its 80 beds are able to cope with.
Given the critical situation, it is urgent to increase inpatient capacity to treat severely malnourished children, and to provide early treatment in outpatient facilities. Outpatient nutrition centres play a crucial role in facilitating home treatment, to prevent children’s health from deteriorating and, as a result, avoid having to hospitalise them. But most centres in N’Djamena are open just one day a week and experience frequent shortages of ready-to-use therapeutic foods, which are provided by UNICEF and are vital for severely malnourished children.
Everything must be done to stop kids becoming so sick they have to be taken into hospital.Natalie Roberts, MSF head of emergency programmes
“Access to emergency paediatric care services is an uphill battle in N’Djamena, so everything must be done to stop kids becoming so sick they have to be taken into hospital,” says Natalie Roberts, MSF’s head of emergency programmes. "Action is required urgently to increase the number and the reach of outpatient nutrition centres and make sure they have the means and support to provide effective assistance."
In partnership with Chadian health authorities, MSF has opened an inpatient therapeutic feeding centre that is starting off with 50 beds. The plan is also to open several ambulatory nutrition centres across N’Djamena, to enable children to receive treatment and appropriate follow-up at home.
The nutritional status of children with moderate malnutrition also needs to be improved, but they receive no form of treatment. “Until now in N’Djamena, children who are screened and found to have moderate malnutrition were sent home with nothing. But we know that, once they’re back in their homes, moderate malnutrition rapidly descends into acute malnutrition because their mothers aren’t able to give them enough food.
We shouldn’t have to wait for these kids to be at death’s door to respond to their basic needs!Natalie Roberts, MSF head of emergency programmes
In the coming weeks, MSF will include the distribution of supplementary food provided by the World Food Programme in its outpatient activities to treat children suffering from moderate malnutrition.
Providing assistance in Chad for the past 37 years, MSF works in the regions of Salamat, Mandoul and Logone Orientale, delivering medical care to the local, displaced and refugee population. Every year the organisation boosts its capacity to screen and treat child malnutrition during the lean period that falls at the same time as the increase in seasonal malaria, which usually get under way in May and ends in September. With the situation especially critical in N’Djamena this year, MSF has launched an emergency nutrition programme to extend the provision of treatment of acute malnutrition.