Fatoumata Zahara sits on a hospital bed in Bamako, Mali, next to her two-year-old son Salim. The little boy is severely malnourished and is suffering from kwashiorkor, where his body has become bloated from hunger and his skin is cracking painfully.
The mother and baby fled their home in Gao after conflict erupted and her husband was shot dead by a stray bullet when the city fell under armed groups’ control.
Fatoumata says: “Before long I had nothing, I could not even make a small bowl of porridge for my baby and could not take him to hospital as I didn’t have enough money for the transportation to go there. Thanks to a friend of my mother I was given a free bus ticket to Bamako. My mother was too old to make the trip with us and so remains alone in Gao. I am very concerned for her. But I had to leave as by this time my son could not even open his eyes as they were so swollen.”
Since the start of military intervention in Gao, access to food supplies has deteriorated massively, with families struggling to survive. Major supply routes to Gao have been cut off and food stocks are deteriorating rapidly, with most shops and businesses closing as the conflict worsens.
As they left Gao on the bus Fatoumata looked out the window and saw airplanes bombing the skies behind her. And unfortunately their troubles did not end there. On the way to Bamako, her bus was violently attacked by rebels. The passengers were forced off and Fatoumata found herself in the middle of nowhere, frightened and alone with her very sick son.
Luckily, a man who was also fleeing Gao, drove past and seeing the desperate state little Salim was in, offered to drive the mother and baby the rest of the way.
“My child saved me that day,” says Fatoumata. “Without him, no one would have stopped to pick me up. Now it’s my turn to save him.”
As soon as Fatoumata arrived in Bamako she took Salim a local health centre, where Action Against Hunger is working to diagnose and treat malnourished children. The team immediately saw that Salim was in immediate danger of dying and admitted him for intensive round the clock specialist care. Now after a few days his swellings are beginning to go down and the pain is subsiding a little. The team are confident that, with time, he will make a full recovery.
“I really hurt in my heart for everything that has happened,” says Fatoumata. “I do not know what we will do next but we will have to stay in Bamako until there is peace in the north.”
Action Against Hunger is supporting 14 health centres in Bamako, and teams are working round the clock to save malnourished children’s lives, just like Salim’s, every day.
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