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Niger: losing Issia

As I enter the Aguie stabilisation centre for the first time, I’m greeted by many faces. But these are not the faces of curiosity and amusement with which  children usually greet a visitor with a camera – they’re the faces of desperately concerned mothers. These are mothers who have left their homes and families for weeks on end to give their child the best chance of survival.

It was only when I got closer that I was confronted by the shocking impact malnutrition has on a young child. It was hard to believe, looking at their tiny, weak bodies, that these children are in fact the lucky ones. The ones sick enough to be admitted here would almost certainly die if left in their villages without help.

The fight to survive

Families here in the worst-hit areas of Niger are struggling with around one-third less food and money than it takes to survive. The harvest has been only a third of what it should be in a normal year and 3 million children are facing hunger. Their bodies are weakened and they can’t fight off disease. Sometimes, even the children that reach the feeding centres are already too ill to save.

There’s one child I will never forget. When I first met Issia, my heart sank. He was so weak all he could do was whimper softly. It was a sound I hope I never have to hear again.

At first, with special feeding supplements, his condition had stabilised. But because his immune system was already so weak, he developed an infection and his body could no longer cope.

I saw his eight-year-old sister Jamila, who’d been by his bedside every day for a month, walking out of the centre with tears streaming down her face. Immediately I knew, he didn’t make it.

A few days after Issia died, I went to visit his family in their village, about 20 minutes from the stabilisation centre. I didn’t want to intrude on their grief, but I wanted to make sure the family still wanted us to tell Issia’s story.

Mariama was incredibly welcoming and thankful for all the efforts made by Save the Children staff to save her son. But life is incredibly hard for them. She has given birth to eight children, five of whom, including Issia, have already died. She’s pregnant with her ninth child and no one in the family had eaten for days.

She told me: “The day my child died I was so upset because in three months, I’d lost two children. I pray to god to protect the children that are still alive.”

An uncertain future

There are many happy, uplifting stories that come out of these stabilisation centres. On a different day, I might have brought you good news. But despite your generosity, and all that governments are doing, the situation here is so bad, and is affecting so many families, that, as Adamou, who’s in charge of this centre, says: “Frankly, for the coming months, we’re going to have many desperate cases.”

Please support our west Africa appeal – we want to reach more children like Issia and save their lives.

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