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Nutrition in Niger: “It’s a joy to help children get better”

Aminata Abdoulaye (20) and her son Hassane (9 months), who suffered from severe acute malnutrition. © Ollivier Girard/Concern Worldwide.

In a quiet health centre in Niger, mother-of-three Aminata holds onto her youngest son Hassane, who is lethargic and severely malnourished. Earlier that day, she travelled a long distance to the EU-supported Concern clinic located in Koufan – a remote region far from her home. The journey is arduous, but Aminata is happy to take it, as it is the only way to help her young son. After numerous visits, Hassane is gradually improving.

Story by Concern Worldwide, 2021.
Photos: Ollivier Girard/Concern Worldwide.

With his weight becoming much healthier, the spark has returned to his eyes and he is much livelier. Aminata says she would like all her children to be smart and go to the nearest school when they are old enough.

Hassane is one of the more than 1.2 million children in Niger suffering from acute malnutrition.

Rising hunger in Niger

For decades, it looked likely that the fight to end global hunger could be won. From 1991 to 2014, hunger levels had significantly decreased. But, since then, they have slowly been on the rise again. Factors such as conflict and the growing climate crisis threaten to increase hunger further, and ruin years of progress, leaving millions of people at risk of starvation.

The need is especially great in Niger, which is ranked last out of 189 countries in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2020 Human Development Index Report. Around 9.5 million people in the country are affected by extreme poverty. 

This situation is made worse by the armed conflict, which spilled over from Niger’s neighbouring countries. Armed groups within the country are causing significant insecurity and many families have been forced to flee their homes. There are more than 300,000 Nigeriens displaced within the country itself. 

The country also faces recurrent cycles of food insecurity, malnutrition and natural hazards such as floods and droughts. For a country that is heavily reliant on agriculture, these challenges can have a devastating impact and result in high levels of hunger. 

In this context, EU humanitarian aid is providing support to Concern Worldwide for a new nutrition programme. The project aims to drastically improve the health of young children, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, in 5 of the world’s poorest countries, including Niger.

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Consultation room at the Integrated Health Centre (CSI) Koufan, Tahoua. ©Olivier Girard/Concern Worldwide.

Consultation room at the Integrated Health Centre (CSI) Koufan, Tahoua. ©Olivier Girard/Concern Worldwide.

Dedication of healthcare workers

Concern’s EU-funded nutrition programme and its dedicated healthcare workers and volunteers care for children like Hassane and mothers like Aminata. Despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the programme has supported 202 health facilities and successfully treated more than 145,770 people in its first 5 months.

Moussa Zouéra is Head Nurse at one of these health centres. On average, she treats 3 children with moderate to severe nutrition every day. Despite the hardship, Moussa loves her work, and welcomes every chance to help her community. 

“If you see a very sick child and there is no money for medicine, it is sad. But if they come to us, we help them. It’s a joy for us to help sick children. Those are our children, our brothers, my sisters,” she explains.

She thinks the wide-ranging support provided by the nutrition programme allows healthcare workers to make a real impact in the local area.

“The team provides us with support, training, food, medicine and many things we need,” she says. “We also get handwashing kits, soap, training and medical screenings for the whole neighbourhood,” she adds.

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Moussa Zouéra, the Chief Nursing Officer at the Integrated Health Centre of Koufantawa. ©Ollivier Girard / Concern Worldwide

Moussa Zouéra, the Chief Nursing Officer at the Integrated Health Centre of Koufantawa. ©Ollivier Girard / Concern Worldwide

Innovative approach in fighting malnutrition

EU-funded Concern’s pioneering Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) uses an innovative approach. It focuses on home-based nutrition support, rather than simply in health centres. 

The programme also addresses malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea as they have the highest prevalence in the region.

When a child is treated for malnutrition, signs of a healthy recovery can usually be seen within 72 hours. However, once they leave the health centre, Concern keeps checking in every week, to follow up on their progress. 

Back in the Koufan Integrated Health Centre, little Hassane is weighed and measured every 2 weeks, and the doctors keep record. The team performed a full health screening on him to provide therapeutic supplements and the vital nutrients he needs to get better.

What next?

Concern’s EU-funded nutrition programme aims to reach almost 300,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Niger, South Sudan, and Sudan.

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected operations, the programme also addresses the pandemic by strengthening hygiene promotion and increasing food security.

By taking actions like this, the programme will not only help in meeting immediate needs but also build resilience to shocks and stresses through early warning and early action systems. This means that families like Hassane’s can look forward to a brighter future.

Last updated
05/05/2021