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Medical Aid Group Urges Niger Government to Allow Feeding Programs to Resume

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says thousands of children in Niger are atrisk of illness and death because they're not being treated for malnutrition.

The group, also known as MSF, is calling on the government of Niger to allow it to immediately resume its nutritional programs in the Maradi region. Niger's government ordered the suspension of those operations three months ago, accusing Doctors Without Borders of exaggerating the malnutrition problem in Maradi.

Nicolas De Torrente, executive director of Doctors Without Borders/USA, says, "Malnutrition is a medical and humanitarian emergency, accounting for about 11 percent of the global burden of disease. It contributes to between three-point-five to five million deaths estimated in children under five every year (globally). The WHO, the World Health Organization, estimates that there are 178 million malnourished people across the globe, and at any given moment, about 20 million of those are suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition, the most life threatening one."

He estimates that only about three percent of those 20 million receive the UN recommended treatment.

"Now, Niger is one of the malnutrition hotspots around the world…. And Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, medical teams have been treating malnutrition in that country since 2001," he says.

He says by mid-September, medical teams had admitted over 61,000 children suffering acute malnutrition into feeding programs. He says, "This is a recurring situation. Year after year, we've treated tens of thousands of acutely malnourished children with therapeutic, ready-to-use food. These are pastes, innovative pastes that do not require refrigeration or cooking. We're in a chronic emergency."

De Torrente says a partnership had produced very good results in the past.

"We recognize the need to find a long-term solution to this problem of malnutrition, rather than conducting emergency responses every year to the seasonal outbreaks of acute malnutrition that occur, particularly between the harvests. And we recognize the need to partner with the government of Niger and the Ministry of Health that have the long term responsibility for the care and welfare and health of the children in Niger. And that's why it's so incredibly frustrating for us to be forced to cease this important, life-saving work. We are calling upon the government of Niger to let us immediately resume our nutritional programs in Maradi. At this point, the lives of tens of thousands of children are at stake."