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Africa

'Inside the care unit skeletal babies lie closer to death than to life'

Text by Melissa BELL

Latest update : 2010-06-11

FRANCE 24’s special correspondent in Niger, Melissa Bell, recounts her experiences reporting on the food crisis that has blighted the country.

Friday June 11

Zinder was once the capital of Niger. Now it sits dusty, isolated, 900 kilometers from the current capital Niamey, in a largely forgotten corner of Africa. A remote yet populous outpost, on the edge of Niger but at the heart of its food crisis.

Mirriah is a small town about a twenty minute drive to the south, in which UNICEF has built a centre for severely malnourished infants. Over the last year admissions have tripled.

Inside the intensive care unit, skeletal babies, closer to death than to life, lie listless and silent next to their mothers. The young doctor explained that the women, who came from remote villages, only tended to bring their children when the sicknesses associated with severe malnutrition and dehydration made them impossible to care for. Which meant that the children were brought too late - sometimes too late to save, but always long after they should have been seen by doctors.

The trouble, we were told, was that women in these parts had babies every year. The women lying on the beds, looking tired and vacant, were for the most part in their early twenties but already had six or seven or more children. And leaving the others behind in order to bring one sick baby to a hospital, was difficult. Which meant that many women simply never made the trip.

We went from the intensive care unti to another room where the children that were ready to leave were kept. They looked small for their age, but seemed almost healthy, and some had even recovered the ability to gurgle. But it wasn't until we left that it struck me. All the babies in the centre had been boys. There was not a girl amongst them. Not a single one.
 

Date created : 2010-06-11

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