As a malnutrition crisis is escalating in northwest Nigeria, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that the current humanitarian response is insufficient to avert a potential catastrophe in the coming months.
MSF has therefore advised aid organisations working in Nigeria to scale up their humanitarian response. The humanitarian organisation has also called on the Nigerian government and local health authorities to act now to prevent a catastrophic loss of life in the months ahead.
According to a publication on the MSF website, MSF teams in northwest Nigeria had provided inpatient care to 10,200 severely malnourished children with medical complications and admitted 51,000 children to their outpatient feeding programmes, between January and May this year. The organisation noted that inpatient admissions in its facilities increased by 26 per cent above figures for the same period in 2022 – numbers which were already unprecedentedly high.
MSF teams have reinforced activities in the region, opening three new outpatient therapeutic feeding centres. In addition, MSF runs 10 inpatient centres and 32 outpatient centres across Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states.
This year, admissions are expected to continue rising. The ‘lean season’ – the period between harvests when stocks of food run low, which runs from May to August in Nigeria – only began recently, but bed occupancy is already at 100 per cent in several MSF treatment centres.
“The numbers of malnourished children that we’re receiving in our facilities are a strong indicator that the further we get into the lean season, the more cases we’ll receive,” says Htet Aung Kyi, MSF medical coordinator.
Northwest Nigeria has some of the worst health indicators in the country. Escalating levels of violence in recent years have contributed to turning an alarming malnutrition situation into a full-blown crisis. Armed groups regularly raid towns, loot property and kidnap local people for ransom.
Many residents have fled their homes for safer areas. Others have stayed but are unable to access their farms or places of work due to the worsening insecurity. People in need of medical care face challenges reaching health centres and hospitals, because of the risks of travelling on unsafe roads.
According to MSF field teams in the northwest, children who recover from malnutrition and are discharged often need to be readmitted later, as their families struggle to find enough food to keep them healthy. This keeps children stuck in a spiral of malnutrition from which it is difficult to escape.
“We eat when we have food, but there are days when we go hungry, and sometimes the children have to beg for food,” says Sadiya, whose child was treated for malnutrition at MSF’s therapeutic feeding centre in Katsina.
According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 78 per cent of people in northwest Nigeria live below the poverty line. Healthcare is often unaffordable or hard to access, and many children have never been vaccinated against common childhood diseases.
A very limited amount of international aid reaches the region. All these factors have contributed to the growing numbers of malnourished children in urgent need of treatment.
Despite the escalating crisis, northwest Nigeria lacks the attention and support required to set up a lifesaving response, which needs to include preventive measures such as food distributions and improvements to food security, as well as the early detection of malnutrition cases and timely treatment.
MSF has been working in Nigeria since 1996. Currently our teams are responding to the health and malnutrition crisis in northwest Nigeria, working in 10 inpatient therapeutic feeding centres and 35 outpatient therapeutic feeding centres in Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states.
The medical humanitarian organisation is also responding to a malnutrition emergency in northeast Nigeria, running a 120-bed intensive therapeutic feeding centre and an outpatient therapeutic feeding programme in Nilefa Kiji centre in Maiduguri, Borno state.
Last year, MSF teams across Nigeria provided inpatient care to 28,000 children with severe malnutrition and enrolled 175,000 children in outpatient feeding programmes.
SOURCE: Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)