(HN, July 31, 2011) - As government and aid officials fight to stem to tide of malnourished children in the Horn of Africa, on the other side of the continent, a proven method of quickly guiding children back to health is showing impressive results.
In Nigeria's dry north, a programme to endow individual communities with the ability to treat malnourished children has resulting in a sharp decline of cases.
Malnutrition here, as well as in many parts of Africa, is not only due to lack of rain or climbing food prices. Aid workers say poor household feeding practices are also to blame: mothers either stop breast-feeding abruptly and too early or do not have the knowledge on how to prepare nutritious meals.
Dubbed the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), the concept is designed to nurse children back to normal over the course of about eight weeks. For the most part, children are treated at home with ready-to-use therapeutic food. It is a result of a close collaboration between the federal, state and local governments and communities, as well as UNICEF and the European Commission.
On a recent visit to a CMAM post in Katsina, mothers could be seen shepherding their malnourished children through a carefully-planned circuit. First come a check-up, then a consultation, and finally the mothers receive any needed drugs and anti-biotics, and food supplements, including the therapeutic food.
Careful records are maintained so that, over the course of eight weeks of rehabilitation, proper follow-up can take place. When the programme started, there were 100 cases a day treated; now, only about 20 mothers come in every day. "We are very, very happy with the results," said one health worker.
The programme is so finely-tuned that if a mother does not return for a follow-up visit, a trained community volunteer comes to knock on their door.
Midwife Fedosi Babengada says that, in addition to the case management, mothers are also offered nutritional advice on how to boost the health benefits of each meal.
Despite being one of Africa's most prosperous and populous nations, more than one million children aged five and under die of preventable causes every year in Nigeria. It has the fourth-highest number of underweight children in the world. This translates into more than two million children suffering from severe and moderate levels of acute malnutrition - most of them in northern regions.
CMAM reached about 54,000 severely malnourished children in seven drought-affected northern Nigerian states. It is funded by a 3 million Euro grant from the European Commission's humanitarian aid agency (ECHO).
The focus states border Niger Republic and the Republic of Chad - both of which appealed last year for humanitarian food aid following severe food shortages caused by the ongoing Sahel drought and climate change.
Apart from the effects of Sahel drought in Northern Nigeria, other major challenges in the region include poor child care practices - particularly low exclusive breastfeeding rates - as well as inadequate quality and quantity of complementary foods.