Malnutrition in Marsabit now a ‘level three’ crisis

Acute Malnutrition

A woman gives water to her child from a tin at Manguto Village in North Horr, Marsabit County. Humanitarian agencies are now making rallying calls to redouble efforts against acute malnutrition in Marsabit. 

Photo credit: Nicholus Komu | Nation Media Group

Malnutrition in Marsabit County has now reached ‘level three’ crisis phase, indicating biting food shortage due to prolonged drought.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), commonly known as Doctors without Borders, says the phase means a high or above–usual level of acute malnutrition. They project it to continue to September, citing prolonged drought in northern Kenya. Three consecutive seasons of failed rains have hit the north-eastern region hard, worsening an already dire food insecurity situation.

“If medical and humanitarian assistance doesn’t improve, this situation may continue to September 2022. Despite the prolonged drought crisis, the region has seen under-investment in nutrition from the county and national governments,” the doctors said in an official statement.

The experts in February this year carried out an assessment in the five sub-counties of Marsabit.

“North Horr sub-county, specifically in Illeret, presented the worst food security situation and the highest number of malnourished children. A mass screening done by Unicef in Marsabit, also in February, showed a critical global acute malnutrition rate of 23.3 per cent. Eleven malnourished children, who were patients in the programme, died between mid-February and mid-March,” MSF observed.

They further disclosed that the area has lost 60 per cent of its livestock in places like Illeret, where malnutrition cases have been increasing in households following livestock deaths in this pastoralist community, meaning less milk is available for people to drink.

Telite Saani, a 26-year-old mother of six from Lomadang village, recently birthed twin boys who are still breastfeeding. She says her breastmilk is insufficient as she hardly gets anything to eat.

“We had 20 head of cattle and sheep, too, but all have died. We collected the carcasses near the road to be burnt.”

Pasture and water resources are scarce, causing long-distance trekking to find grazing areas and water for livestock and domestic use. Families barely have a meal per day. “I collect firewood for sale near Ethiopia,” she says Telite.

The community has turned to selling water to afford a meal.

“I fetch water from the well and sell it. If I get money, I buy flour for porridge, but sometimes when I do not sell, we just sleep hungry.”

 The situation is worsened by reduced access to food in the market and the decline in trade, as prices of groceries have shot up by 25 to 50 per cent. This lack of food has led to families sharing the nutrition supplements given to malnourished children.

MSF told Sunday Nation that it has been working with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and partners to strengthen the medical component of nutrition management in Illeret.

“MSF teams support screening, diagnosis and management of acute malnourished children. The active case finding and surveillance have increased the number of children who have access to this care. Since we started our intervention in March, there has been an increase in admissions of children with acute malnutrition and children not responding to treatment. We enhanced referrals to the stabilisation centre in Illeret. This has saved lives,” Edi Atte says.

MSF has also helped build the inpatient department of Illeret Health Centre to a 10-bed inpatient therapeutic feeding centre.

Mothers at the feeding centre receive at least three meals a day to enhance their lactation. 

“As the malnutrition numbers rose in Illeret, management of patients at the health centre has been a challenge,” MSF said.

The nearest referral facility is five hours drive away, with barely a public transport vehicle, exacerbating the impacts of limited medical staff and drugs in public health facilities,” MSF said.

“MSF urgently calls for sustained food distribution to all households in Illeret and increased human resources for Illeret Health Center,” said Edi Atte, an official of MSF. “Donors need to act now to avert humanitarian catastrophes that will continue if more is not done quickly.”

This week, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) raised the alarm after it found that around one in every five deaths among under-fives are attributed to severe wasting, which is caused by a lack of nutritious food and repeated bouts of diseases such as diarrhoea, measles and malaria, which, in turn, compromise a child’s immunity.

The global body responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide in its latest report released on Tuesday and titled Child alert; Severe wasting’ observed that severe wasting is the most lethal form of undernutrition, and one of the top threats to child survival while explaining that unlike famine or starvation, relatively few people have heard of severe wasting – also known as severe acute malnutrition – even though it affects around 13.6 million under-fives globally.

 According to the experts, ongoing conflicts and climate-related emergencies meant this number was already likely to grow.

“Wasting isn’t only rising in countries facing humanitarian crises – countries across a variety of regions, including some relatively stable, have seen an increase in child wasting by more than 40 per cent. For example, in Uganda, child wasting has increased by around 60 per cent since 2016. Yet, despite the scale of the problem, relatively small additional investments in treatment for severe wasting could lead to an exponential reduction in child deaths,” Unicef cited.


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