© UNICEF/UN034934/Schermbrucker

Against all odds

UNICEF goes the extra mile to reach every child in the fight against malnutrition in the Sahel.

This year in the Sahel 900,000 children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Awa from Mali got help in time to save her baby Nantene’s life. Without the special nutrition supplement her baby might have died. This is the story about how UNICEF and the EU are working together to save lives across the region.


© UNICEF/UN034937/Schermbrucker
“In our culture, when a women gets married, it is considered a great blessing if she has a baby immediately. My husband and I were very pleased when I fell pregnant with my first baby. I was 18 years old.” — Awa Berthe, Sikasso Mali

Nantene (18 months) in her home, Sikasso Mali.

© UNICEF/UN034935/Schermbrucker

In June, Awa almost lost her baby to severe acute malnutrition. Nantene kept losing weight and was very sick. At first Awa thought it was just a bad cold. Her mother urged her to go to the traditional healer, but it didn’t help and Nantene’s health got worse until Awa thought she might lose her. Awa,(20 years) at her homestead, Sikasso Mali.

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Awa’s husband is unemployed and they have very little income. But when baby Nantene’s health continued to deteriorate critically, he eventually agreed to give her some money so she was able to visit the nearest clinic. Awa and Nantene at the local clinic where the doctor checks Nantene’s MUAC (measurement upper arm circumference) Sikasso Mali.

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It was at the CScom Wayerma 1 Health Centre, that Awa met Doctor Marco. The doctor examined Nantene, by weighing her and measuring her upper arm circumference. He picked up immediately that she was suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Awa and Nantene receive a sachet of “Plumpy Nut” which is a peanut-based paste administered for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition.

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Nantene was put onto a course of Plumpy Nut, which is a peanut-based paste given for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition. The packet of paste can be given at home so it allows more patients to be treated and removes the need for hospitalization in every case. A mother and child at the local hospital where they are admitted and the child is treated for severe acute malnutrition.

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The current nutrition situation across the Sahel remains a great concern. Chronic malnutrition has an irreversible impact on a child’s growth and development. Two thirds of babies in the region don’t get enough nutrition and one third of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. At the clinic, children are examined for SAM (severe acute malnutrition) their MUAC is taken as well as the measurements of their upper arms.

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Malnutrition is closely linked to poverty and affects women and children the most. Low levels of education, unequal social status and limited decision-making power can all play a part in the nutrition that women and their children are able to get. Awa and her neighbour finish the washing up at home, Sikasso town Mali.

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“Although Sikasso seems like the bread basket of Mali, malnutrition here remains high. Mothers don’t breastfeed properly, they don’t know how to use local products for food for their children and grandmothers urge for “traditional” medicine.” — Salif Kaomare, Head Nurse at local health centre.

Awa prepares a meal for the family at their homestead.

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“We teach women how to cook local produce for their families. We stress how important it is to breastfeed exclusively for the first months of a baby’s life. Finally, we have to change the cultural norms so that people stop giving their children traditional concoctions instead of visiting the clinic.” — Salif Kaomare, Head Nurse at local health centre.

Women wait at the local clinic where their babies are examined, inoculated and cared for.

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With the help of the European Union, UNICEF is distributing thousands of boxes of Plumpy Nut to health centres in the region. In the first three months of 2016, more than 1500 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) were successfully discharged from health centres. The “Plumpy-Nut” product arrives at the local hospital via truck from the capital.

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In a region which suffers from ongoing conflict and instability, the distribution of the Plumpy Nut is not a straightforward process. The product is stored in a warehouse in the Mali’s capital, Bamako and from there it is taken by truck to remote parts of the country. Thousands of boxes of “Plumpy Nut” are distributed from the warehouse in Bamako to the rest of the country.

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There is a constant threat of bandits and the drivers have to drive in convoy for safety. The roads are rough making the trip treacherous and the journey slow. Many areas are very remote and hard to get to. Aerial view of a typical homestead in Northern Mali where Islamist rebels continue to fight for power and autonomy.

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Once the Plumpy Nut finally reaches the local health centre, it then needs to get to the smaller, more isolated facilities. Motorbikes are responsible for this part of the journey. So when the product finally gets to the children who need it most, it’s been on an epic journey spanning thousands of kilometers. The “Plumpy-Nut” product is distributed to smaller, more remote clinics on the back of motorbikes.

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For Awa and Nantene, the arrival of the Plumpy Nut at the CScom local Health Centre in Sikasso is the difference between life and death.

“When Nantene was very ill, I almost lost my faith. I definitely lost all hope. I thought with all my heart that my baby was going to die.”
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Since Nantene started on the Plumpy Nut, she put on weight and has much more energy. Awa hopes that by the grace of God, she will have a long life and be educated.

“I hope she will finish her schooling, go on to serve her community, and that she will grow into a good woman.”

Awa embraces Nantene at home, thankful and encouraged that she is stronger and starting to put on weight.


Watch UNICEF’s video Against all odds.

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