North-east Nigeria: Ringing the alarm bell on the malnutrition crisis
31 July 2023
About 700,000 of these children may suffer life-threatening severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
"So how far away are we from a crisis? We are in the middle of a crisis. We need to be clear on that. We are ringing the alarming bell. There are people close to or dying right now as we speak in north-east Nigeria.”
Those were the stark words of Matthias Schmale, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, in reference to the grim projection that hangs over north-east Nigeria: 2 million children under age 5 may suffer from acute malnutrition in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states this year due to a lack of nutritious food. About 700,000 of these children may suffer life-threatening severe acute malnutrition (SAM). This is more than double the number of SAM cases in 2022 and the highest levels projected since the nutrition crisis in 2016.
Rising levels of complicated acute malnutrition
In Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital, there was 48 per cent increase in the number of children with complicated acute malnutrition requiring inpatient care during the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period last year.
This increase is visible at the stabilization centre, managed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), in Gwoza General Hospital, Borno. Mothers line up with their malnourished children, and distraught mothers from nearby camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities rush in with their malnourished children.
The heat is sweltering. Sunlight filters through the windows, casting long shadows on the children’s beds, which are covered with paediatric scales and measuring tapes.
At one end of the stabilization centre, women quietly wait and observe. Their expressions are a mix of worry and hope as they watch their children being moved from one intensive care room to another for emergency life-saving treatment.
Aisha Mohammed, 26, clasps her eight-month-old son, Ali, in her arms. Ali has sepsis – a serious infection stemming from a compromised immune system due to acute malnutrition. His small, frail body bears the tell-tale signs of poor nutrition.
"I just want my child to get better,” says Aisha. “Life has always been harsh and continues to be so. During the time when we were held captive [by a non-State armed group], our diet primarily consisted of guinea corn and various soups prepared with zobo [hibiscus] leaves. We have been unable to eat the way we used to."
Aisha is one of many people who arrived in Bama from inaccessible areas in Borno to find help.