The first rains have arrived in northern Nigeria. Tufts of guinea corn are peeking out from the soil. Farmers are optimistic that this year’s growing season will yield good results – yet hundreds of children are packed into a community clinic near Katsina, seeking treatment for severe acute malnutrition.“It’s not that they’re hungry,” said Rabia Mohammed, chief government nutritionist for Katsina State. “It’s just that they’re eating the wrong kind of food.”
The staple diet here is guinea corn, maize meal and rice. All are rich in carbohydrates, but, on their own, they are not sufficient to ensure that children get the range of nutrients they need.As a result, thousands of children are now attending outpatient therapeutic centres for treatment. These centres are part of an integrated health strategy that UNICEF is supporting called Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).
The children wait under a tree, the clinic’s waiting area. All exhibit the classic symptoms of acute malnutrition: Some have swollen limbs, a tell-tale sign of protein deficiency; others have chronic diarrhoea and vomiting. But their rehabilitation is taking place in the community, rather than in hospital. Here, the children are regularly weighed, offered medications and fed supplementary foods. Their mothers are taught about nutrition and hygiene. Any childhood immunizations they may have missed are also administered on the same site.
According to Ibrahim Lawal Dankaba, the local government representative, with 20 per cent of the population under the age of 5, these kinds of integrated strategies are critical.