An extremely critical health situation is unfolding in northeast Nigeria

With an estimated population of 183.5 million, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world.

Map of MSF's activities in Nigeria, 2015

Nigeria also has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Petroleum and oil resources play a large role in the Nigerian economy. However, the security situation deteriorated in many areas of Nigeria in 2014. Violence and displacement took their toll on people’s health and reduced their access to medical services.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) first worked in Nigeria in 1971. Our response to the Biafra conflict and ensuing famine was, in fact, the first official MSF mission after our founding

Borno crisis

An extremely critical health situation is unfolding in Borno State, in northeast Nigeria. At least 500,000 people are either displaced or cut off in enclaves outside the state capital of Maiduguri and are in urgent need of food, medical care, drinking water and shelter.

“People are gathered, isolated and cut off in a half-destroyed town, and are totally dependent on external assistance, which is cruelly lacking. If we don’t manage quickly to provide them with food, water and urgent medical supplies, malnutrition and disease will continue to wreak havoc.”

Hugues RobertMSF emergency programme manager


Hospitals in Maïduguri have been severely stretched due to an influx of displaced people. Increasing admission rates has thus become a priority for us.

Our teams have been permanently present in Maiduguri since April 2014, focusing on maternal and child care, running a therapeutic feeding centre in the Gwange district and two major health centres in the districts of Maimusari and Bolori.

A mobile team manages food distributions and offers medical and nutritional care and immunisation in four informal camps.

By February 2017, more than 800,000 displaced people were living in Maiduguri, most of them hosted by the local community, or in camps.


In June 2016, one of our teams found mortality rates in Bama, Borno’s second largest city, to be well above the emergency threshold and 19 percent of children were severely acutely malnourished.

One of our other teams has set up activities to strengthen medical and nutritional care, distribute food and improve access to water and hygiene conditions in a camp that’s home to more than 10,000 people. By October, the severe acute malnutrition rate had dropped to two percent.

A mobile team supports the 11,000 displaced people (mainly women and children under five) in the camp inside the hospital compound. The mobile team is also working with community volunteers to improve water and sanitation activities.


In July, our teams working in Banki conducted a survey to find that one in 12 children had died and one in 15 children were suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In September, an MSF team in Ngala found that one in 10 children suffered severe acute malnutrition.


In the largely destroyed city of Dikwa, some 54,000 displaced people are trying to survive. We have organised malnutrition screenings and therapeutic food distributions for malnourished children, as well as the provision of basic necessities such as jerrycans, soap and nets to protect people from malnutrition and malaria.

Assessments by MSF, UN agencies and the Nigerian authorities have shown an extremely serious situation. In Bama, mortality rates exceed the emergency threshold and 15 percent of children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Efforts are being mobilised but a massive relief operation is required to respond to this crisis, particularly for those who are in remote or cut-off areas.


Displaced camp bombing

At least 120 people were wounded and 52 killed following a bombing in an internally displaced person's camp in Rann, Nigeria, on 17 January 2017. The bombing was carried out by the Nigerian Army.

“This large-scale attack on vulnerable people who have already fled from extreme violence is shocking and unacceptable,” says Dr Jean-Clément Cabrol, MSF Director of Operations.

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MSF’s work in Nigeria: 2015

Insecurity and suicide attacks by insurgents led to further displacement, increasing the need for medical and humanitarian aid in Nigeria in 2015.

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We have been providing healthcare to people displaced by violence, as well the host community in and around Maiduguri, since mid-2014. In 2015, around 10,000 outpatient consultations were carried out across four sites (two in the camps, two in the community) each month.

Child health

MSF has been working in Zamfara state since 2010 following an outbreak of lead poisoning in children. This year, the team continued to monitor lead levels and fewer than 10 percent tested needed chelation treatment to remove it from their bodies. The Zamfara project has now evolved to provide healthcare to children under the age of five in five villages, focusing on malaria, upper and lower respiratory tract infections, malnutrition and diarrhoea. Overall, more than 19,300 consultations were carried out and 3,200 children were admitted.  

  • We began a new programme in Niger state in June to address lead exposure in children
  • MSF advocacy efforts resulted in a government decision to remediate lead from two villages.
  • MSF launched a new programme In Kebbi state consisting of three mobile clinics and a health centre that offers inpatient and outpatient services for children under 15. A malaria clinic opened in August and over 4,000 patients had been treated for malaria by the end of the year.

Reconstructive surgery for children

In August, a surgical team made its first visit to Sokoto to operate on 25 children suffering from noma (a facial gangrene infection that usually affects children under the age of six), cleft palate, cleft lip and other facial disfigurements.

MSF ensured pre- and post-operative care, including nutritional and psychosocial support for families, which helped reassure parents about their children undergoing surgery and also enabled the children – who are often shunned because of the disease – gain social skills. Around 450 individual and group mental health sessions were undertaken.

Sexual and reproductive healthcare

A new programme for victims of sexual and gender-based violence started in June in Port Harcourt, and following an awareness campaign delivered in schools, health clinics and the media in September, monthly attendance at the clinic doubled from around 35 to 70 patients.

The well-established Jahun emergency obstetrics programme at the government hospital in Jigawa state admitted an average of 900 patients per month, of whom around 100 needed intensive care. Staff cared for 116 babies in the neonatal unit each month. During the year, surgeons carried out approximately 2,400 interventions, including 300 for obstetric fistula. About 60 percent of patients were aged between 15 and 19.

Mohammad Abdullahi, 40, arrived in Dar Es-Salam refugee camp in January 2015 after fleeing from Boko Haram in Baga. His wife, Awa Ouharba, 38, died due to childbirth complications.

Responding to emergencies

An early warning surveillance system based in Sokoto facilitates rapid response to emergencies. In 2015, an outbreak of meningitis led to a mass vaccination campaign that reached 229,500 people, and over 6,300 people received treatment for the disease.

An Abuja-based emergency team ensured health facilities were prepared for possible post-election violence by training medical staff on mass casualty response and assessing facilities. The team also responded to an outbreak of cholera in Maiduguri, where more than 1,700 patients were treated.

find out more in our international activity report

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