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Niger: Searching for Saminou

We set off this morning to the clinic for severely malnourished children in Aguie, Maradi region, Niger. We were looking for Saminou, a two-year-old boy we met last September in the clinic where he was being treated by Save the Children. His tiny, skeletal face, captured by Sky News, had moved enough hearts to prompt £10,000 of donations to Niger. Now Sky News were back to find out what happened next.

Within moments of arriving at the clinic Dr Morou had located the relevant register, flipped to the right page and found Saminou’s details. Saminou Laoualy, admitted on September 9 2010, then aged 23 months, suffering severe acute malnutrition and diarrhoea, stabilised and discharged two weeks later, home to his village of Kalgo. He’d been saved.

When I last wrote, I said that Niger felt, at times, like being in the apocalypse. It felt impossible; the challenges were too great, the resources too few. Once more Dr Morou had worked his magic and guided a desperately sick child away from death back to his family.

We jumped back into the car, spirits high, and continued the search for Saminou.  Several hours later, up dirt tracks, down sandy roads, through mud villages and following numerous directions, we arrived in Saminou’s village. Armed only with some poor quality prints, screen grabs from the Sky website, we asked the crowd that gathered around us; did they know this boy? Yes they nodded, eager to please. Could they take us to his mother? Yes, they could, they said. One thing though, they added. That boy is dead.

Saminou died. He left the clinic well, and he died one week later. He died from disease, not from a lack of food. They don’t know what disease.

We went to the family home. Saminou was taken to the clinic by his grandmother as his mother, Rashida, was pregnant at the time. “How was she?” we asked her husband. Hiding, he almost smiled, she’s scared of the white people. And the new baby?

Buried. Just weeks after Saminou died, his mother gave birth again. But the baby was born dead. In the two months we’d been away the tiny, terrified, 18-year-old girl who was finally coaxed from hiding by her 23-year-old husband, lost both of her children.

Looking at his mother’s young, beautiful and broken-hearted face, there was nothing I could say. I don’t know what to say now either. Logically, I already knew that this is what we might learn. The statistics are there. In Niger one in six children die before they are five years old. I had already found two other children, Rahina and Tsiharou, who had also been treated at the clinic, had also been close to death, and found them both alive and well. If I looked for four more, I would probably learn that one child hadn’t made it. That one turned out to be Saminou.

And the baby that never lived? The statistics were there as well. In 1998, the World Health Organisation found that 2.3% of children in Niger were born with a low birth weight. In 2005, Niger suffered a food crisis. In 2006, the number of children born underweight rose to 20.3% — it increased nine times. The food crisis in 2010 affected twice as many people as in 2005 and Saminou had lived in one of the hardest-hit areas.

We gave Rashida the pictures we had of Saminou, wishing desperately that they were better, that they’d been taken when he was well so she could remember her son healthy, that there was some reassurance we could give that things would change. But we couldn’t.

Niger has had help in 2010. There has been an emergency and an emergency response to match. Saminou suffered in the food crisis, but the emergency treatment was there and it was not the food crisis that killed him. With no clean water, no latrine, and a mud hut as a home, a life lost to disease is one lost to poverty.

Niger is the least developed country in the world but it receives about half of the amount of overseas development aid received by Zimbabwe, a quarter that’s given to Mozambique and a sixth of the amount allocated to Ethiopia. It needs investment to bring everyone here to a place where they can work, stay healthy, feed themselves, and where 18-year-old mums like Rashida don’t lose two children in two months.

Sky News are telling Saminou’s story over Christmas. You know the ending already, but please watch it anyway.

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