A new approach for tackling child hunger in Mali enables children to grow up strong, Action Against Hunger

A lifeline for children in Mali

How a new approach for tackling child hunger in Mali enables children to grow up strong...

By Action Against Hunger

Jan 12 2017

Oumou Macalou, a 25 years old mum of four, lovingly hugs her little daughter Awa. “A few weeks ago Awa became very ill. She was listless and weak and didn’t engage with her siblings anymore,” Oumou says. “Thankfully, she’s getting better now. She is interacting with the nurses and takes everything in very attentively. She’s even smiling every now and then.”

Oumou Macalou and her daughter Awa. B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger

Awa was born blind. When her mum noticed that she was unwell, she took her to the nearest health centre, where she was diagnosed with life-threatening malnutrition. The health workers immediately referred her to the Action Against Hunger-supported nutrition unit at the regional hospital in Kita. Awa will stay at the hospital until she is well enough to continue her treatment at home.

Not long ago, it was nearly impossible for mothers to get the urgent treatment they needed for their children, often because health care was too far away. “Malnutrition is a huge problem in Mali and many parents are unable to access help because they are unable to walk long distances and leave their other children behind,” says Dr Silla, the regional focal point for health in the region.

Providing life-saving care in the community

Things changed when Action Against Hunger and the innocent foundation launched an ambitious research project with the potential to revolutionise the treatment of malnutrition, paving the way for health workers to treat malnourished children in their communities. “When we first discussed the project with Action Against Hunger, I wondered whether we would make this work, whether we could really reach and treat children within their own communities,” said Dr Silla. “But the project had the potential to have a huge impact, so we moved ahead.”

The motivated health team at the Action Against Hunger and innocent foundation supported nutrition unit in Kita, Mali. B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger

By training community health workers to diagnose and treat children at home rather than expecting their parents to walk up to 40km to the nearest clinic every week for treatment, health workers cannot only treat children in urgent need of care but they can also spot the early signs of malnutrition and prevent children from getting seriously ill in the first place.

From now, only children with medical or other complications have to be referred to the hospital, and thanks to the new project, transport is now available.

Addressing the causes of malnutrition

“Many families lack access to food and water and successive pregnancies are frequent which means mothers sometimes do not have adequate time to recover and breastfeed their children long enough – this in turn can lead to malnutrition,” says Dr. Kodio Ibrahim, the director of the hospital’s nutrition ward.

For Roko Diallo, the treatment she received saved her life. “Her older brothers cannot wait for her to come back home. They love her a lot,” says her mum. B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger

In addition to providing life-saving treatment, Dr. Ibrahim and his team train mothers on how to spot the early signs of malnutrition and provide advice on preventing their children from falling ill in the future. “We organise a series of activities that we hope will prevent children from relapsing into malnutrition. Through theatre, songs and group discussions, we help mothers connect with each other and better understand the condition while passing on health messages on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and diversified diets.”

And for Dr. Ibrahim and his team there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing children make a full recovery. “I’m a dad myself, my son is three years old. As a dad, I want my child to be healthy, just like any dad around the world. We want our children to develop and grow into healthy adults so they can go on to study, stand on their own two feet and earn a living.”

Mothers, children and the health team at Kita hospital. B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger

Thanks to the innocent foundation’s partnership with Action Against Hunger, children in Kita now have the chance to grow up healthy. For children like little Awa, this can mean the difference between life and death. As her doctor says: “Now that she’s regaining her strength, she’ll be playing with her siblings and friends again, just like any other child around the world should be able to do.”

When good nutrition transforms lives

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B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, Mali, 2016