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Niger: a story of fragile progress

It was amazing to see the pictures that dropped into my inbox from a colleague in Niger. It took me a little while to recognise little Tsahirou.

When I first met him in one of Save the Children’s clinics for severely malnourished children his little chest was concave as he struggled to breathe. His mother, Salmey, sat on his bed looking extremely worried about her baby boy. “I don’t know what to think,” she said. “I don’t know if my child is going to make it.” I could understand why she felt like this. He was certainly one of the most severe cases in the clinic.

A month later I went back to the clinic to find Tsahirou and see how he was getting on. I couldn’t believe it when Dr Morou, the doctor in charge of the clinic, told me he’d been discharged. He described the amazing change in Tsahirou as a result of the simple treatment he’d been given. It was difficult to believe.

It’s incredible to see this transformation for real in the photograph and to hear that Tsahirou is at home healthy and really well nearly three months after I’d met him.

However, an increasing number of children are needing emergency feeding in Niger. Almost 2,500 under-5s are pouring into feeding centres across Niger each week – a four fold increase since the start of the year. Children like Tsahriou.

This is as the United Nations meet in New York to review how they’re doing on the promises (Millennium Development Goals) they made in 2000 to the world’s poorest countries. If we’re to cut by two thirds the number of children who die each year before they reach their fifth birthday then we have to do more to help children in countries like Niger.

Niger is not a basket case — it’s actually the story of fragile progress. Its position on a list of ‘high achievers’ seems improbable, particularly as the country is currently in the throes of a catastrophic food crisis affecting children like Tsahirou. Yet, against this fragile backdrop, between 1998 and 2006 Niger’s under-5 mortality rate has dropped by 28%.

Niger’s improvement must be seen relative to its starting point. Twenty years ago Niger had the highest under-five mortality rate in the world and today it’s ranked 13th from the bottom – so a lot more needs to be done to stop children dying. Food crises like Niger has been experiencing are only going to hinder any progress.

But Niger has shown that it can be done. We just need the will to do it.

You can help us ‘press for change‘ to tell world leaders that it’s now or never to stop children dying like they promised the world’s poorest in 2000.

Find out more about Niger’s food crisis

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