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Niger: A narrow margin of survival

It was a relief to enter the shade of the health clinic and leave the scorching Niger sun. As I’m shown around, the doctor tells me there are three phases in this clinic – each reflects a stage in a child’s recovery from malnutrition and any accompanying illnesses.

I wandered into phase one – this is where the children are most critical. Most lie there listlessly, mothers sitting in a daze by their bedside. It was almost unbearable to stay. I continued into phase two, where the children that survived phase one have started on their road to recovery.

That was when my eyes fell on Soueba who had just finished feeding her baby, Mansour. I crouched down with her on the plastic mat on the floor and introduced myself.

The room was hot but I noticed how clean and calm it was – I realised this must be a world away from the dusty villages that surround the clinic.

Soueba and Mansour

Soueba began her story, and as I learnt about the ordeal she had been through in the last two weeks,  her positivity and appreciation for the assistance she had received became more and more remarkable.

“We’ve been here for 12 days but it’s the first time we’ve been here. We’re from a village a long way from here. Mansour was ill with diarrhoea for three days so we took him to the local health centre where we received some medicine.

“After three more days he was still ill in spite of the medicines so my mother took him back to the health centre which is a two-hour walk from our village. The health centre called for a Save the Children car to transfer Mansour to the clinic in Aguie. My grandmother went with him and I came later.”

The lucky one

This tale of prolonged sickness and the struggle to reach health facilities is one often heard in these remote, desert regions of Niger, but as Soueba continues her story I start to realise the severity of the situation she faced.

“The other child that came with us from the village who had the same problem died when he arrived. When we came here Mansour was almost dead, now he can crawl and has made a recovery we thank God for this. We’re very happy with the help we have had here.”

Mansour survived, the other child didn’t. The margin of survival is that narrow.

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As the other mothers gather around us, Soueba explains the root cause of the problem.

“Our main worry is food, there’s not enough in the village and this year the harvest is much worse than last year – there has been an insect infestation. Children are hungry in our village – we don’t have meat or beans to give to them – they eat mainly millet.”

Growing up on such a limited diet often results in stunting, which can have a life-long impact.

Soueba’s bright smile and abundant appreciation continues right until the end of our time together in the clinic. Her final words highlight just how thankful she is for the help she has received.

“I want Mansour to grow up and go to school so he can become a health worker and be able to help other children who have the same kind of problems.”

This blog was written by a Save the Children worker, Niger.

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