Malnutrition: Tackling a major killer of under – 5s


Every year, about 20 million children under five years of age suffer severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and of these, about one million die annually in Africa. In this report, ALI GARBA Ali highlights the ordeal of malnourished children and the intervention of the state government and other agencies to curb unnecessary mortality.

Wabu is a village in Gamawa Local Government Area of Bauchi State that has been ravaged in recent years by desertification, resulting in poor agricultural output by farmers, especially in crops and animal production needed for the growth of infants.

Moreover, due to the effects of desertification and drought, most residents in Wabu community lack access to arable farm lands that could boost the supply of food containing vital nutrients such as vegetables, fruits, beans, eggs, among  others, for the body system, especially for the growth  and development of children.

However, one-year-old Hassan Muhammed who has been suffering from yet to be diagnosed disease looked pale, highly dehydrated and malnourished such that one could easily count the bones in his ribs without missing any of them because of his highly deteriorating condition. You could see in his eyes pains and his struggle to breathe his last. My merely looking at him, you could see that he lacks basic nutrients in his body.

Beside dehydration, he looks two times younger than his age, stunted and he cannot walk nor talk as one that is his age mate because he has lost all his weight and strength.

In an interview with his parents, Mr and Mrs. Muhammud Sani Rabo to find out why and how Hassan’s sickness was different that of other children at the clinic, the father of the sick child said, “Hassan is a twin. We named them Hassan and Hussein. Hussein is at home right now but his condition is not critical like that of Hassan. Hassan’s ailment has persisted and is gradually killing him”.

Explaining further, he said: “I do not know the cause of my son illness.”

All doesn’t go well with Hassan’s parents who are peasant farmers as they are in dire need of help to assist their helpless two-year-old son that is dying slowly from acute malnutrition, which they cannot do anything about.

Rabo, 45, complained bitterly about lack of funds, poverty and other resources needed to take his son to a secondary health facility, saying they have no option than accessing care at the health facility close to them at Wabu.

The father of the ailing child, said, “My son has been suffering for quite a long time; we need help the Bauchi State Government, individuals and corporate bodies to enable us find a cure for him.”

The malnourished child who is likely to die any moment from the illness is in dire need of medical attention and by merely looking at the sign and symptoms he was presenting with, one could say that the boy was suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) .

“We has been receiving treatment and attending the maternity without the knowledge of the actual disease our child is suffering from. From the Wabu Health Center, we have been referred to another hospital for further treatment. Although, they refer us to another hospital, we cannot afford the bills,” he added.

Rabo said that his farm has not produced enough crops for the past two years because of desertification and pointed out that the toddler is in dire need of urgent medical attention to save him, adding that he was constrained by lack of money to pay the medical bills.

On her part, the mother of the ailing child, Aisha, fondly addressed as Hajia said , “My biggest concern is the inability of the health care facility to properly diagnose the disease that my son is suffering from and he is in critical situation, thereby battling for his life.”

“We are left in the dark as far as his sickness is concerned; we don’t know what his ailment is all about  and we cannot do anything about it now due to lack of fund.”


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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