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Increase in severely malnourished children in northern Nigeria overwhelming, children dying -MSF

Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said its inpatient facilities in northern Nigeria have recorded an extraordinary increase in admissions of severely malnourished children with life-threatening complications in recent weeks, exceeding last year’s figures by over 100 per cent in some locations.

The humanitarian non-governmental organisation who made this known in a press statement released on Tuesday noted that this is an alarming indication of a premature peak of the lean season and the increase in acute malnutrition that accompanies it, typically anticipated in July.

“We are resorting to treating patients on mattresses on the floor because our facilities are full. Children are dying. If immediate action is not taken, more lives hang in the balance. Everyone needs to step in to save lives and allow the children of northern Nigeria to grow free from malnutrition and its disastrous long-term if not fatal, consequences,” said the MSF’s Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr Simba Tirima,

The organisation, however, called on the Nigerian authorities, international organisations, and donors to take immediate action to diagnose and treat malnourished children to prevent associated complications and deaths and engage in sustained, long-term initiatives to mitigate the underlying causes of this urgent problem.

“We’ve been warning about the worsening malnutrition crisis for the last two years. 2022 and 2023 were already critical, but an even grimmer picture is unfolding in 2024. We can’t keep repeating these catastrophic scenarios year after year. What will it take to make everyone take notice and act?” added Dr Tirima.

The statement noted that in April 2024, MSF’s medical team in Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria admitted 1,250 severely malnourished children with complications to the inpatient therapeutic feeding centre, doubling the figure for April 2023.

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“Forced to urgently scale up capacity, by the end of May the centre

accommodated 350 patients, far surpassing the 200 beds initially designated for the peak malnutrition season in July and August.

“Also in the northeast, the MSF-operated facility in Bauchi state’s Kafin Madaki hospital recorded a significant 188 per cent increase in admissions of severely malnourished children during the first three

months of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023.

“In the northwestern part of the region, in Zamfara state, the inpatient centres in Shinkafi and Zurmi have received up to 30 per cent more monthly admissions in April compared to March. Talata Mafara’s facility saw about a 20 per cent increase in the same period.

“Similarly, MSF inpatient facilities in major cities like Kano and Sokoto are also reporting alarming surges, by 75 and 100 per cent respectively. The therapeutic feeding centre in Kebbi state also documented a rise of more than 20 per cent in inpatient admissions from March to April 2024,” the statement said.

It added that despite the alarming situation, the overall humanitarian response remains inadequate, and other non-profit organisations active in the north are also overwhelmed.

“The United Nations and Nigerian authorities issued an urgent appeal in May for $306.4m to address the pressing nutritional needs in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states. Yet this will be insufficient, ignoring as it does other parts of northern Nigeria where needs also outweigh the current capacity of the organisations to respond sufficiently.

“The catastrophic nutritional situation seen in recent years in northern Nigeria calls for a bigger response. Persistently excluded from the formal humanitarian response, reductions in the already limited funding available for the northwest have also dangerously affected the provision of crucial

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therapeutic and supplementary food.

“These supplies were completely unavailable in Zamfara for the first four months of this year and are now only available in lower quantities. This reduction has meant that it is only possible to provide treatment for more severe malnutrition cases, compromising an effective response that also addresses malnutrition earlier in its progression and avoids exposing children to a higher risk of mortality.”

Adding, the Country Representative said, “We are alarmed by the reduction in aid at these critical times. Reducing nutritional support to only severely malnourished children is akin to waiting for a child to become gravely ill before providing care.

“We urge donors and authorities to increase support urgently for both curative and preventive approaches, ensuring that all malnourished children receive the care they desperately need.”

Gracie Brown
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