July 26, 2018 / 8:26 PM / 2 years ago

Chad health centers overwhelmed with spike in malnourished children

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children in feeding centers in Chad are sleeping two or three to a bed as hospitals struggle to cope with a spike in near-death malnutrition following drought, charities said on Thursday.

The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) said the number of children it has treated for severe malnutrition this year is 60 percent higher than in the same period in 2017, while the number of children hospitalized is up by 45 percent.

The charity has already nearly doubled its capacity to 150 beds at the main therapeutic feeding center in the capital N’Djamena, while the medical agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) opened a second site with 50 beds on Thursday.

Malnutrition peaks in Chad every year between July and October, the lean season before the harvest begins. But this year, countries across West Africa’s Sahel began to run out of food in March after a bad dry spell.

ALIMA’s head of mission Hassan Issa said in five years of work he has never seen so many starving children in N’Djamena.

“The situation is becoming overwhelming,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Despite the increase in capacity ... we’re certain that in August and September, if nothing else is done, we’ll still be very overstretched.”

Most of the children hospitalized are under five, the agencies said. If they receive therapeutic foods for four to five days, they can usually recover.

But malnourished children should be getting help before they reach that stage, said Natalie Roberts, an emergency doctor with MSF, which is increasing outpatient services to assist more children with moderate malnutrition.

“We must not wait until children are on the verge of death to meet their basic needs,” she said.

The United Nations has estimated that almost a million people in Chad will need food assistance by the end of August.

Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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