Health / Hunger

Inside the Feeding Hospital Working to Save Malnourished Children

In West Africa, widespread chronic malnutrition threatens an entire generation.

The Therapeutic Pediatric Center is stifling, and there is not enough room. With only 15 staff on duty and 138 children receiving treatment, the long, narrow building is a flurry of activity.

The center has 33 beds. Right now, there are at least two children per bed. Because of the crowded conditions, some mothers make room on the floor.

The center is part of the District hospital in this community on the edge of the Sahel in West Africa, a region that has been in a state of crisis for years. This past year the region was wracked by drought, decimating the chance for a full harvest. Repeated floods washed away much of the surviving crops meant to feed entire communities for the year.

Malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished infants. When they do get to eat, the food is often poor quality, lacking in sufficient nutrients.

Workers at the center diagnose the children who come here with any number of ailments kids under five years old may have, but most are predictable in this part of the world: malaria, anemia, malnutrition.

With diagnoses of malaria or anemia, parents are given medication and are generally dismissed in a matter of hours. If the case is more dire, children are sent to the ICU and treated for malnutrition.

Chronic malnutrition early in life can cause stunting, a permanent condition that causes developmental and physical disabilities. Effects include delayed motor development, impaired cognitive function and poor school performance. Chronic malnutrition can also cause wasting – low weight for height – which is often a strong predictor of mortality for children under five.

This part of the hospital has approximately 15 staff on duty. They have to work quickly to attend to all the patients. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
With all 33 beds occupied by two children apiece, some mothers are left to make room on the floor. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
Like every other child in the hospital, little Ibrahim is reliant on tubes and machines as his lifelines. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
Fighting more than one disease at a time is common. The threat of stunting and permanent disability is very real. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
Habasia was barely moving when her mother brought her to the hospital. “I was in a fear state. I wasn’t sure if she was living or not. If she lives, I will be the happiest person on Earth." Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
Murtala has been at the clinic for 18 days. Her mother hopes to hear that she is well enough to go home soon. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
The staff are somehow attending to everyone. It seems they all have six arms. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
“If he lives, I want him to go to school and get his education,” says Seray, mother of two-year-old Issufu. “If he lives.” Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
“When you get to a breaking point, you go. Hide, cry. Wash your face and go back to work.”
Dr. Issaka Mahamane - In Charge of Malnutrition Intake/Diagnosis/Treatment. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
Medical assistance is not a substitute for food security. And even that will run out. A generation of stunted or malnourished children isn’t a foregone conclusion. Photo: Josh Estey/CARE
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Hunger on the Edge of the Sahel

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