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Community feeding centers save hungry kids

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By Abraham Adekunle

Children receive ready-to-use therapeutic food to manage acute malnutrition.

Armed violence is one of the causes of displacement in the North West region of Nigeria. In bandit attacks, thousands have been killed and millions displaced. These displaced people face the threat of hunger and lack of access to a steady supply of food. Katsina is one of the states in the North West that has come under repeated attacks by armed groups, creating a persistent situation of insecurity that has resulted in the highest number of displacements1 across the troubled region.

According to reports, millions are suffering amid the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, but children are bearing the worst of it. One of such instances is of a 31-year-old local woman in the state who was six months pregnant with twins. This was the time when she and her family fled from Batagarawa community in Katsina due to the armed violence. Once they were displaced, they were plunged into poverty. They fled with nothing, without access to their means of livelihood and without access to adequate aid.

Her children suffered malnutrition as they had extremely low-birth weights.

This family started to experience long stretches of hunger, starving for days. Food was not certain and somehow inconsistent when they got some. Due to the lack of sufficient nutritious food in the woman’s body, her daughters were born with extremely low-birth weights. A clinical nutritionist at Jos University Teaching Hospital, Julian Dadzie, explains that pregnant women who do not eat enough have a high tendency to low-birth-weight. “Hungry mothers do not have enough nutrients to help with [foetal] development,” she added.

Since the children did not grow much even after their birth, she was worried. She was referred to a malnutrition center near her and the twins were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. The twins have been getting medical support from the center, which specializes in giving malnourished children like them a fighting chance. In a typical week, the woman and her daughters were certain of getting food handouts just twice: on Wednesdays and on Sundays. Even then, it was shared with other family members. This is the reality for many displaced persons in the state.

More children suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

The effects of these diseases on kids’ health are long-lasting. Katsina state has the highest rate of stunting in Nigeria. There are more than 200,000 children under the age of five suffering from Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) or Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). Dadzie said that this makes them vulnerable to other diseases such as cholera and measles during periods of outbreaks. Acute malnutrition tends to affect the physical and mental wellbeing of those affected. Dr Abdulkadir Yasore, team lead in one of the malnutrition centres in Batsari community, said, “Some [of the children] are so badly affected that whatever is handed to them they will take it to their mouths. Whatever.”

Low nutritional status also affects a child’s immune system and makes them more vulnerable to infectious diseases. For instance, measles kills an estimated one in 1,000 unvaccinated, but well-nourished children. But with poverty and malnutrition, mortality rates from the virus have been known to rise as high as 15 percent. Malnutrition has also worsened the incidence of Noma disease in the region. Noma is an orofacial gangrene that mainly occurs in malnourished children. Its mortality is very high and survivors have facial deformities that make their family even reject them.

When MUAC is between 12.5cm and 13.5cm, the child is malnourished.

To respond to the crisis, “C-MAM Centres,” or “community-based management of acute malnutrition centres,” were set up in various communities with support from international health organizations. When children are brought to his center, Dr. Yasore says that they are screened with Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tapes. MUAC is a measuring tool that allows health workers to determine if a patient is acutely malnourished and to what extent. An MUAC measurement of less than 11cm is an indicator of severe acute malnutrition. When it is up to 12.5cm, the child is diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition. When MUAC is between 12.5cm and 13.5cm, it suggests that the patient is at risk and their caretakers are counselled on how to promote the child’s nutrition. A MUAC of over 13.5cm indicates that the child is well nourished.

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