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Somalia: Witnessing severe malnutrition close up

I walk through Sigale camp in Mogadishu, talking to the curious crowd that gathers around me.

One woman tugs at my arm to follow her. I am pulled towards a small hut, set far back from the main camp.

It is dark inside, but I can make out two figures. The shapes shift and I have to stifle a gasp. The mother inside is holding a severely malnourished child.

He is so thin that I can see all of his bones, and his head is being held tenderly by his mother – he is too weak to lift it himself.

His eyelashes curl delicately, and silent tears run down his face .

Severe malnutrition

The mother is looking at me questioningly. I ask her name, and her child’s name and age. The tiny boy is five years old. He is as fragile as a bird.

I ask her how long he has been like this, and why.

She answers slowly, as if she is uncertain of the answers.

“We have had nothing to eat for several days. I have not eaten anything proper for two weeks now. We have been drinking water, but it is not safe.

“Salat is sick. He is not strong enough to even hold his head up. It is too heavy.

Waiting for death

I do not think that Salat will get better. I have other children so I cannot walk to take him to hospital. It feels as though I am waiting for him to die,” she says.

She continues her story, eyes intent on mine.

“A little while ago, I don’t remember how long, he started to vomit and became weaker.

“I could not get him to keep any food down so I have been giving him water. But he is growing weaker and weaker. It is not just the food, there is something else wrong. He is sick”.

To the hospital

The rest of the team arrive and we urgently confer. We know he is too weak for us to wait another moment for help.

We ask the mother, Lul, if we can take them both to the hospital now. She agrees and we rush to our car.

We gently place them in the back and race towards the hospital. I leave them in the care of a doctor, and promise to return shortly.

Medical complications

An hour later we return to the hospital. Lul is propped up on the bed with Salat sleeping beside her.

The doctor has seen them both and given him medicine, but the child is so sick the prognosis isn’t good.

The doctor tells me that the severe malnutrition has caused dangerous medical complications.

Scaling up the emergency response

Save the Children is urgently scaling up its emergency response in Somalia – including nutrition. But there are thousands of children facing starvation.

Lul tells me that she feels better in the hospital, but she is still terrified for her child, and does not believe he will live.

“He is too weak. There is not enough food in the camps for our children to be strong”.

Correction: In an earlier version of this post, it was erroneously stated that Salat had died. We’re delighted to report that he is alive although still extremely sick. It was because of hospital error that our team was informed that he had died.

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