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Mali: Life-saving help for children like Bintou

by Bryony Hutt, fundraising manager, who recently travelled to Mali to visit Save the Children’s programmes.

Mothers and their babies wait to be screened for malnutrition at the Save the Children run URENI (outpatient centre for severe acute malnutrition) in Sokoura, Mopti, Mali.
Mothers and their babies wait to be screened for malnutrition at the clinic Save the Children runs in Ouromodi

A circle of dashes. That’s all you see if you search for Ouromodi on Google Maps. The satellite images give you some idea of just how remote this village is.

It took us three and a half hours to drive there from where we were staying near Mopti, a small town in central Mali.

As soon as we crossed the river Niger, the poverty was visibly more extreme. The further we got from the water, the harder it was to imagine this dusty and barren landscape could sustain life.

A bustling scene

Nevertheless, a colourful scene of bustling activity awaited us in Ouromodi.

Save the Children supports a clinic in the community and our staff pay regular visits to ensure that cases of severe acute malnutrition are referred to the hospital in Mopti, also supported by Save the Children.

I saw several children taken to the clinic for closer examination, but fortunately none needed to be referred to the hospital.

Adama, 10 months old, is given medication for mouth sores caused by malnutrition
Adama, 10 months old, is given medication for mouth sores caused by malnutrition

Rains bring disease

I was surprised to learn that hospital referral rates are generally much higher in the wet season.

Though the land becomes more fertile, the rains also lead to an increase in diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria, both huge killers of children under five, particularly those whose immune systems have been weakened by lack of nutritious food.

In busy times, the hospital receives up to ten new cases of severe malnutrition each day.

Incredible, life-saving work

We spent a lot of time at the hospital and I was bowled over by the stories we heard and the incredible, life-saving work done there.

We met one little girl called Bintou, who at two years old, could barely lift her arms. The nurses inserted tubes into nose to feed her with therapeutic milk as she was unable to hold solids down.

Bintou, two, was admitted to the Save the Children supported URENI (intensive unit for severe acute malnutrition) in Mopti, Mali, on 12th February 2014. Bintou was initially fed therapeutic milk via tubes as she was unable to absorb food due to anorexia caused by malnutrition. She had previously been diagnosed as malnourished and admitted to the clinic a few months before, when she was treated and then discharged.   However Bintou soon became ill again. She had been ill for two months with headaches and a fever before reaching the URENI. Her mother Amadou used to take her to traditional healers but only now does she realise how severe her malnutrition is. Amadou has been pregnant five times, but has lost two of her children - the first baby was still born and the second was one year old when he died, but Amadou was unsure of the cause.   After a few days at the clinic, Bintouâs condition visibly improved. The feeding tubes had been removed and she was able to eat alone.
Bintou, 2, was brought to our clinic with severe acute malnutrition

A very different child

The first time I met Bintou, I was really saddened by her condition. But just four days later we returned to find a very different child in her mother’s arms.

Bintou’s body was finally getting the medicine and nutrients she needed and, strengthened by this, she was now able to eat and drink without the tubes.

Though she still had a long way to go, watching Bintou play with the other children, with a smile on her little face, was a heart-warming moment in which I felt very proud to be part of Save the Children.

After a few days at the clinic, Bintou was much better
After a few days at the clinic, Bintou was much better

Armed with understanding

As well as nursing severely malnourished children back to health, the staff and volunteers at the hospital give advice on nutrition and hygiene to the mothers and grandmothers who stay there with their children.

In this way, Save the Children ensures that when the children are discharged, their carers leave with a better understanding of how to protect them from malnutrition and related diseases in future.

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