Ousmane hugs his mum as he recovers in hospital in Mauritania

Ousmane’s first victory

Eighteen-month-old Ousmane's story is one of triumph and hope over sickness and acute malnutrition in drought-affected Mauritania.


By Action Against Hunger

Sep 24 2019

The Sahel region of Africa is undoubtedly one of the hardest regions to live on the planet. The earth is inhospitable and sterile, the sun hurts and hunger thrives.

Mauritania is one of 14 countries that lie within the little-known but unforgiving Sahel region, which regularly suffers from major droughts. The Guidimakha region in southern Mauritania has been among the most vulnerable parts of the country for decades in terms of access to food. 

Bridging the hunger gap 

The hospital in the regional capital Selibaby received almost 3,000 cases of acute malnutrition just last year. Sometimes it just doesn’t have enough food for everyone, especially during the ‘hunger gap’ from June to September – the period between the two harvests. Sadly, despite the best efforts of our staff, sometimes children just don’t survive.

Among those working to stem the tide of malnutrition is Pape Sall, a psychosocial worker who treats his patients as if they were his own children. 

“Tell me Aminata,” he asks a mother who has brought her son to the hospital, “How many days ago did Ousmane start to show a fever?” With her fingers, she indicates two.

Ousmane groans, a sound that needs no translation. Aminata’s eighteen-month-old son doesn’t open his eyes. Diarrhoea, vomiting and malnutrition have left him weak and on the verge of fainting.

Patients arrive at hospitals across the region with infections or malaria but the real problem is lack of food which weakens their immune system. Once children arrive they are referred to the Centre for Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation, where treatment lasts an average of just two weeks.

The nurses take care of Ousmane, weigh him, measure him, take his temperature, and then confirm that he is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). His treatment begins immediately with a dose of therapeutic milk and afterwards, Aminata lays down next to her son on a hospital stretcher under a mosquito net.

Tears of joy

It isn’t until the third day that Ousmane opens his eyes to ask for food, he is hungry at last.

"From the moment I left the village until now I thought that my child was going to die. Only seeing his eyes again has given me hope," says Aminata.

In July 2019, a few weeks after admission, Ousmane is finally discharged from the hospital.

“Ousmane is out of danger,” says Safiatou, the head of the treatment centre. “He can continue his treatment at home now.”

Overcome by emotion, Aminata runs to collect her things. When the taxi arrives she is almost flying. The journey back to their village passes in silence. Ousmane’s struggle has left him tired and he has no idea that he has just won his first victory.

As they arrive at their village in the desert, seeing his mud house and his family waiting for him in the shade of a thatched roof, now, as if he finally understood that he has been saved, he begins to cry. 

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