Surviving with ‘miracle food’

Women wait at malnutrition screening a clinic in the host community in Maiduguri © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin

Children bear the worst impact of the crisis in northeast Nigeria. This year, an estimated 450,000 children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition, making them nine times more likely to die from common illnesses such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. The health system, damaged by fighting, is one of the biggest casualties in the emergency. Families displaced by violence struggle to get their children the help they need to survive.

This is the story of two women fighting to keep their children alive and who, despite everything, manage to hope for a brighter future.

With funding from the UK Government, UNICEF and partners are providing lifelines to these courageous mothers by enrolling their children in life-saving therapeutic feeding programmes. Sachets of “Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food” (RUTF) provided in these programmes are packed full of all the nutrients young children need to recover from severe acute malnutrition and many people refer to RUTF as “miracle food.”

Fatima Ali and her son Usman Ali © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin

Thirty-three year-old Fatima Ali survived against all odds to get her family from their home in Kukawa, in Borno State. Her son Usman Ali, now 16 months old, is now enrolled in the therapeutic feeding programme.

I came to Maiduguri 8 months ago. The insurgents had been there, (in Kukawa), a long time, each time they would come we would run away to the bush. It was hell. It was hell. We would survive on leaves, there was no food.
I have 9 other children. Now we all live on Baga road on the land of my husband’s friend, in a tent that we made from zinc. We beg, we send the older ones to go find scraps of food.
Baby Usman undergoes a ‘appetite test’ to check his response to treatment while waiting to be seen by nurses © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin
We are now in hospital, I am collecting medicine (RUTF) for my baby. My baby is my main concern for now. I am praying to help my son, we pray for enough food and that he can be healthy.
Fatima and her niece Aisha are educated in the importance of handwashing while waiting to be seen by nurses © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin

Nine month-old orphan Aisha Mustapha is at the clinic with her aunt, Fatima Mustapha, who has been taught about the importance of keeping hands clean when feeding a child. The family has been living in Maiduguri for two and a half years, since their home in Magumeri was attacked by Boko Haram.

Before Aisha was born there was a suicide attack behind the Teaching Hospital in Maiduguri and her father rushed to help people. Another bomb went off and his legs were blown off; he died soon after. Aisha’s mother died from high blood pressure the day after she gave birth.
I am her mother’s younger sister. I named her Aisha after her mother.
Aisha is measured with a midder-upper arm circumference band or MUAC band to check if she is malnourished © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin
They left 10 children behind. I take care of three of them and the other ones are with my mother. My husband helps look after them, too. He is a labourer.
I pray that Aisha will be something, that she will grow up and be educated.
My prayers are always — May God bring peace to Maiduguri. May God bring enough food.
Nurse Falmata Ali Mustapha (right) Nurse Maaji Fali (left), enrol children in the therapeutic feeding programme. Malnourished children with complications are referred to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital for further care © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin

For women and their families living in the host community, access to services and supplies still remains part of their daily struggle to survive.

Women wait to enter the malnutrition screening day at a clinic in Maiduguri © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin

Living outside organised camps and with scant resources, many families of severely malnourished children mistakenly believe they have to pay for treatment for their children. UKAID is funding projects managed by UNICEF and partners across northeast Nigeria to help make sure families can access free nutrition screening, counselling, and treatment for malnourished children.

A baby tries the “miracle food” at a clinic in Maiduguri © UNICEF/2017/Sokhin

Both Usman and Aisha are set to make a full recovery. The “miracle” food RUTF doesn’t just save the life of a child with severe acute malnutrition, but it enables the child to recover without lasting ill-effects.

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