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Nigeria: Treating malnourished children in Beni Shiekh
Child malnutrition is one of the main problems in Borno state. Beni Shiekh is one of the locations where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is running nutritional programmes in the state.
Al Zara is from Mainok, a town in Borno state that is frequently attacked by Boko Haram. Her son, a father of two girls, was killed during one of the attacks. Al Zara is at the therapeutic feeding centre that is managed by MSF in Damaturu, in neighbouring Yobe state, with her daughter-in-law and her two granddaughters who are both suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
The girls were referred from Beni Shiekh, a town in west Borno, where thousands of internally displaced people fleeing the violence have moved in recent months.
In Beni Shiekh, around 30-40% of the population (roughly 33,000 people) is displaced, but the figure could be much higher. Many of those displaced live with local people, but many others have settled in government buildings.
There are eight recognised camps within the town and several more in the suburbs. The main source of income for people comes from collecting firewood and then selling it on the roadside.
Death by malnutrition
Malnutrition is one of the main problems, especially for children. The displaced people have been forced to flee their homes because of the violence and many of them have also left their farmlands behind. If there is any space to grow crops at the new sites where thousands of people have gathered, it is not large enough.
Severe acute malnutrition can cause a child to die very quickly. So it is important to detect it and treat it quickly.
In Beni Shiekh, as well as in the neighbouring towns of Ngamdu and Minok, MSF assesses whether children under 5 years old are malnourished or not. Those who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition are immediately entered into the outpatient feeding programme.
Several mothers wait with their children for a nutritional assessment in Beni Shiekh. Often, mothers do not know that their child is malnourished, but they take them to the doctor thinking they have some other illness because they appear weaker and sick.
Most children are displaced but are living with the local community. MSF serves both communities.
Treating Severe Acute Malnutrition
Zara Alamin is with her 5-month-old baby, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, at MSF’s outpatient feeding centre in Beni Shiekh.
Although this is the most serious type of malnutrition, it can be treated on an outpatient basis if there are no medical complications or other associated diseases. From mid-July to late August, 850 children have followed the outpatient programme.
Attacked by Boko Haram
Seventy children have had to be referred from Beni Shiekh to Damaturu hospital because they needed hospital treatment. That was the case for this girl who is slowly recovering from severe acute malnutrition.
Her father was killed in an attack by Boko Haram three years ago and her mother was left to look after seven children. She survives on what her eldest son can manage to beg.
Moving to stay alive
The main needs for the population in north-eastern Nigeria are food, protection, medical care, clean water and shelter.
These people have been suffering for years because of the violence and the conflict, and in many cases, they have had no choice but to move to stay alive.