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MALI: Malnutrition – Worrying in north, rising in south
BAMAKO/MOPTI, 10 August 2012 (IRIN) – At Koutiala reference hospital in the Sikasso region of southeastern Mali, 300 children are crammed into one room, most of them attached to drips while they receive blood transfusions to treat severe malnutrition with complications, usually malaria. “Even after several years here, I’m taken aback when I see them,” said Johanne Sekkenes, head of NGO Médecins sans Frontières in the capital, Bamako.
This is nothing new. Last year, 12,000 children were hospitalized in Koutiala, mainly for a combination of malaria and malnutrition, while the local health centre handled 85,000 consultations. “There is no paediatric hospital anywhere in the Sahel that’s big enough to treat these kinds of numbers,” Sekkenes said.
The hospital was not built to house 300 in-patient children, but when malaria infection is at its highest during the peak of both the rainy and lean seasons, it can squeeze in 350 if it has to. “The bulk of our work lasts three to six months,” Sekkenes noted. MSF treats acutely malnourished children with and without complications at five community health centres and one reference hospital in Koutiala.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 1.7 million Malians are at risk of severe hunger this year due to drought, high food prices, poor terms of trade for animals, and conflict-driven insecurity. Malnutrition rates are sharpened by these factors, but they are always unacceptably high in Mali.
The 2011 government nutrition survey (called a SMART) reported 150,000 acutely malnourished children, and MSF estimates that aid agencies and the government cared for 30,000 of them. “What happened to the rest?” Sekkenes asked.
The North: Kidal “not normal”
It is difficult to know the extent of malnutrition in the northern territories of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao, which are under the control of Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist groups. To date this year agency workers have not yet been going out into communities to screen children (active screening), so only those who come to health centres are being screened (passive screening).
“This often gives higher malnutrition numbers… [nonetheless] what we are seeing in Ménaka and Kidal is not normal,” said Olivier Vandecasteele, coordinator at Doctors of the World – Médecins du Monde (MDM) – in Mali, the only NGO catering to people’s health needs in the Kidal region. “[These are] very high severe acute malnutrition rates.”