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EMERGENCY APPEAL: MSF asks donors and international aid organisations to scale up their efforts in addressing the malnutrition crisis in Ethiopia. Read the full article here.

Malnutrition has been identified as the single greatest threat to public health. Its reach is wide and the effects are devastating, but we can do something about it.

Severe acute malnutrition is a key factor in the deaths of more than 3 million children each year. It is a contributing factor in 45% of all child deaths, and it affects 178 million children globally.

Children become malnourished when they are deprived of essential nutrients, causing their bodies to stop growing and waste away. They lose fat first and then muscle, their immune systems weaken, and they become susceptible to diseases.

The circumstances which give rise to malnutrition can be varied – poverty, a poor harvest, war, or lack of education is often to blame. Any one of these factors can have a devastating effect, but all too often they come as a deadly combination.

While the problem may seem highly complex, the treatment of malnutrition is surprisingly simple. Thankfully, Médecins Sans Frontières has discovered over the past decade that large-scale malnutrition can be treated with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), inpatient feeding centres and education.

Most children treated with RUTF on an outpatient basis recover in just over a month and cure rates usually exceed 90 per cent. A course of RUTF treatment only costs 150 AED and can be consumed without water, removing the risk of contracting waterborne diseases. If MSF staff are concerned that a child may become malnourished, RUTF can also be used as a preventative measure.

MSF works in several countries to treat malnutrition – right now we are concerned with the level of malnutrition in Chad, Nigeria and South Sudan. Please see photo gallery below.

      Chad          Nigeria    South Sudan




Malnutrition is endemic in Bokoro, as it is across many other areas of Chad. Almost half of child deaths in the country are associated with the condition. The causes of the crisis are complex but include inadequate harvests, malaria, and a lack of understanding about hygiene and nutrition, cause diarrhoea and in turn malnutrition. In addition, mums often stop breastfeeding babies when they're pregnant with their next child and seek help from traditional medicine due to a lack of access to healthcare.


Across the Bokoro region, MSF is running 15 mobile outpatient clinics for malnourished children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old. In Bokoro town, it is running an inpatient therapeutic feeding centre with an intensive care unit where the sickest children are referred. For the first time, MSF is also working in the region to prevent children at risk of being malnourished from falling ill.

Mahamat Djibrine

Mahamat Djibrine, aged 18 months, is fed with therapeutic milk by his mother, Achta, in the intensive care ward of MSF’s inpatient feeding centre in Bokoro hospital.

A malnourished child attends the MSF Abirebi ambulatory therapeutic feeding centre with his mother. The coloured band measures his mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and gives an indication of how well nourished he is. In this case, the red indicates the child suffers from severe and acute malnutrition.

MSF nurse Deogracias Kabila, from the DRC, examines a child with malnutrition during his routine morning round in the rehabilitation ward at the inpatient therapeutic feeding center in Bokoro.

Mariam Abakar holds the hand of her daughter, Fatimé Djibrine, in the intensive care unit of the feeding centre in Bokoro Hospital.

Two mothers wait with their children for medical consultations at the inpatient feeding center at Bokoro hospital.

Malaria test kit. All children enrolled in the outpatient threapeutic feeding programme are tested for malaria. The number of malaria cases in Chad peaks between July and October, during the rainy season. This coincides with the so-called annual ‘hunger gap’, when malnutrition cases are at their highest.




Around 1 million people have fled ongoing violence and insecurity in Borno state, Nigeria, to Maiduguri, the largest city in northeastern Nigeria. As well as running two large health facilities and two inpatient therapeutic feeding centre (ITFC) for severely malnourished children, MSF is trucking 80,000 to 100,000 litres of water into Maiduguri every day and has distributed over 810 tonnes of food.


“As a medical organisation, it’s not usually MSF’s role to provide people with food,” says Phillippe Le Vaillant, MSF head of mission. “But there are people in desperate need. Other organisations were not stepping in up until now, so MSF was obliged to fill this gap.”

President of MSF International, Dr Joanne Liu, examines a baby during the daily round in the inpatient feeding centre (ITFC) in Maiduguri, Nigeria. The ITFC has a 110-bed capacity with around 150 patients admitted monthly. To compensate for the lack of food, MSF started in late September 2016 to provide family food rations to each child admitted in the ITFC.

MSF staff assesses a young patient in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Mustafa Mohammad suffers from malnutrition and malaria. At 7, he weighs 14.5 kg. He was transferred by MSF from Monguno, a city in northern Borno State, to Maiduguri to be hospitalized in the MSF nutritional treatment center. His family lives in a village of Monguno district. His father cultivated fields. He had eight children but three died (one at birth, one of malaria and the other of intestinal disease). They still live in their villages but are afraid because of the ongoing conflict and do not know where to go.

Bintou Kadiri, 8 years, weighs 12.8 kg. His father is a farmer. For the past year, Boko Haram men have regularly come to their villages to loot, but never attacked the village. Because they were never directly attacked, people didn’t leave and the army is not present in the village. Boko Haram took their cows and 20 goats, together with food and money. Bintou is suffering from severe acute malnutrition (marasmus) and acute gastroenteritis, hypoglycemia and dehydration. He was hospitalized for two days in the inpatient feeding centre (ITFC) of Gwange/Maiduguri.

Between 600 and 620 families are living in the unofficial Fariya camp, equivalent to 3600 people. 1070 of those are children under 5. Until MSF intervened, they had very little support.

The Goni Kachallari IDP site is an informal camp where MSF has delivered food, providing a 1 month ration made up of 5 liters of oil, 5 kg of beans, 25 kg of millet. Since August 2016, MSF has distributed 1 month rations of food to 17 700 families in the entire Borno State.


South Sudan


Ongoing conflict in South Sudan has had a profound effect on the local population. Men, women and children are regularly forced to flee their homes to escape fighting, and struggle to access essentials, including food, water and healthcare. Since February 2017, MSF teams have encountered extremely high levels of malnutrition and have launched an emergency response to treat malnourished children.


In 2016, MSF treated 7,050 patients for malnutrition, of which 2,449 were admitted for intensive treatment.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs health care facilities in the UN protection of civilians camp (PoC) in Bentiu, South Sudan. The MSF hospital in the Bentiu PoC is the only hospital for the population of the camp. It provides 24-hour emergency room care, intensive care for malnourished children, medical treatment in paediatric and adult wards, and surgical and maternity services. More than 100,000 people live in dire living conditions in the Bentiu PoC, having fled ongoing violence.

Roda is a mother of two. She attended an outdoor support clinic in South Sudan with both children suffering from severe malnutrition. They had extensive skin disease, as they were both suffering from scabies and infection.

A malnourished infant in Bentiu PoC, South Sudan

Sabir, 10 months old, was suffering from acute malnutrition. So much so that he would suck his thumb for lack of food. His thumb became raw and infected and so his mother brought him to the MSF clinic inside the PoC camp in Malakal where they live.

Aguka Mary, 2, is screened for malnutrition at a mobile clinic that is run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Juba, South Sudan, August 2, 2016. Aguka Mary’s mother: “The baby is sick, she has a very high fever. I was told by the neighbors to come here. I came one hour to reach here.”

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Community Health Promoter, Kai* weighs a baby at an outdoor support clinic in Thaker, Leer County, South Sudan, March 19, 2017.

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