Essential paediatric care in Niger
In Niger, each year a seasonal peak in malaria infections and cases of malnutrition occurs in late summer, when the period of deficient food supplies overlaps with the rainy season and a proliferation of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. From August to October 2018 alone, the paediatric unit run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Magaria, in the south of the country, admitted 9,361 children under five years of age. Most of them suffered from complications due to malaria or malnutrition. We are supporting MSF in responding to the peak and providing essential care to children within the unit and in the surrounding communities.
Médecins sans Frontières/Doctor Without Borders (MSF) has been running the paediatric unit in the city of Magaria in southern Niger since 2005. The public hospital where the unit is hosted remains the region’s only health facility and serves between 700,000 and one million people, around 20% of whom are children under five years of age. At the height of the peak in 2018, the unit grew to 550 beds, and the weekly number of admissions approached 900.
Niger is affected by a high prevalence of chronic child malnutrition and cyclical hunger gaps that together lead to a large number of children requiring lifesaving care. A seasonal peak in malaria infections and cases of malnutrition typically occurs sometime between July and November, when food supplies between harvests are exhausted and the number of malaria cases shoots up following the rainy season that breeds mosquitoes.
In August 2018 alone, the paediatric unit received over 3,300 children under five – significantly more than during previous peaks. The majority of these children suffered from complications linked to chronic nutrition deficiencies and malaria.
These two conditions combine in a vicious circle: children with nutrition deficiencies have very weak immune systems, so their bodies are less able to fight diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections, while children suffering from these diseases are also more likely to become malnourished.
To respond to the overwhelming number of children requiring lifesaving hospital care we are supporting MSF to:
- Strengthen the paediatric unit that employs up to 594 people, including 485 doctors and nurses.
- Dispatch 243 experienced medical staff to ensure patients receive the best possible care inside the hospital and out in the community, where a team is running mobile clinics to care for children as close to their homes as possible.
Throughout the year, MSF also supports 11 health centres and 14 health posts, which offer child primary health care and handle referrals to the paediatric unit in Magaria.
In addition, six stabilization rooms for children under five have been set up in the Magaria and Dungass areas. Patients are stabilized there before being transferred to the paediatric unit in Magaria, if necessary.
Provide essential medical care and reduce the symtoms of malaria and the severity of cases among malnourished children under five in Magaria area.
While Niger has made remarkable progress in cutting under-five mortality over the past decade, malaria combined with chronic malnutrition remains the primary cause of childhood deaths in the country. Working with the Ministry of Health, MSF teams run targeted paediatric programs, support community health workers and boost the capacity of public facilities. These activities are scaled up extensively during each lean season. Awareness-raising sessions about preventing diseases and recognising symptoms are also critical aspects of MSF’s activity across the region.