Fighting in African clinic to keep starving babies alive

In the African clinic fighting to keep babies alive despite the famine

Female children may be worse off as some communities prefer boys (Photo: Armstrong Too/Plan International)

Haybe* is only five months old and lies motionless under a mosquito net, clinging to life.

He is small and hopelessly thin, and his mother Khadra*, looks at his small body and eagerly wants him to recover.

When Haybe became ill with diarrhea and vomiting, Khadra traveled for hours by road from the countryside to take him to the hospital, where he stayed for days. He was taken to the malnutrition clinic and given milk and injections to stop the vomiting, but his small system is struggling.

Years of drought in Somaliland, in the Horn of Africa, have left thousands of children like Haybe seriously ill and dependent on milk and medicines to stay alive.

The mothers who bring their children here have thin eyes and hollow cheeks. Skinny and exhausted, they are haunted by the hunger that threatens the lives of their family.

Female children may be worse off, as some communities prefer boys, meaning girls have to make do with their brothers’ leftovers.

17-year-old Khadra says: ‘I feel hopeless; that I can do nothing for my child. I hope that God will change the situation and that my child will get better. And that life will change for the better.’

Khadra explains that her family are nomadic farmers in the Toghdheer region of Somaliland. They depend on their livestock for survival, but amid East Africa’s worst drought in decades, the land has become too barren for their livestock to produce milk or give birth to young.

Khadra with her son

When Khadra’s 5-month-old son Haybe became seriously ill, she traveled for hours to take him to the hospital (Photo: Armstrong Too / Plan International)

This year marks the fourth year in a row that there have been no spring rains. Most of Somaliland’s rural communities depend on livestock for their livelihoods, but as the parched landscape provides little grazing land, animals die in large numbers, destroy their livelihoods and severely impact the amount of milk available to them. small children.

Grim numbers from the clinic show that between January and May, malnutrition admissions nearly tripled from 26 to 69, with two deaths in April and May.

Khadra says she can no longer give her family milk or meat. Instead, they live on rice and Somali pancakes and sometimes eat only once a day. Where water is available, hungry families like Khadras flock to the area, making them more vulnerable to diseases that thrive in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

‘We live on cattle, but they are weak and thin and the rest have died,’ explains Khadra. ‘They can’t be sold. We depend on what our relatives give us. We have no other income. We cannot afford to get milk and medicine for the child. Things are difficult. The circumstances are difficult.’

The small clinic where her son is nursed is simple – not even a fridge for medicines. It is connected to the hospital and has only two rooms with a total of 18 beds, all of which were full at the time of Haybe’s visit. In fact, more than 30 children are cared for here by the 15 staff members. Without their help, many more would die.

In the African clinic fighting to keep babies alive despite the famine

Without the help of staff like Nurse Hamda, many more children would die (Photo: Armstrong Too / Plan International)

Nurse Hamda saw a steady increase in mothers and children admitted with vomiting, diarrhea, cough, anemia and fever. The 23-year-old says she is scarred by the number of baby deaths unfolding before her eyes.

“We’ve had children who died of severe dehydration while they were hospitalized,” she explains. “There was a child who was admitted to the clinic. We took them to the emergency room and tried to save them, but they died there.

“The child vomited for seven days, so by the time they were brought in they were severely dehydrated and dying.

“There was another incident involving a child who was malnourished. When a child does not get milk, they develop a deficiency of important minerals. So this kid was admitted when he had a high fever and died while his blood was still in the lab.”

Hamda does her best to help, even throwing in her own wages to help the hungry mothers desperate for food.

“I sometimes bring food to one or two, but the rest keep asking me,” she says sadly. “If it’s like five or six, I can’t help them all and I’ll skip breakfast because I can’t seem to find the urge to eat.”

The work takes its toll on Hamda’s sanity as she relives the horrors she witnessed during her service.

“I came across an emotional mother with a small child who was paralyzed and she asked me where to leave her child,” she recalls. “I found out she was hated by her family because of that child, she couldn’t afford basic necessities like shelter, so she was desperate and willing to get rid of her child.

In the African clinic fighting to keep babies alive despite the famine

The work is taking its toll on Hamda’s mental health, she says (Photo: Armstrong Too / Plan International)

“I got emotional because I couldn’t help her. I just gave her counseling and told her the child would improve soon, but she kept saying the child would not improve. I still think about her. I wonder if she abandoned or kept the child.’

The women who visit the center have gaunt eyes and hollow cheeks. Skinny and exhausted, they are haunted by the hunger that threatens the lives of their family. Female children may be worse off, as some communities prefer boys, meaning girls have to make do with their brothers’ leftovers.

Saado brought her one-year-old daughter Sagal Ali to the clinic because she was life-threateningly malnourished and – like Haybe – was suffering from vomiting and diarrhea.

The 23-year-old mother of three says from the clinic: ‘I brought my daughter here to save her life. I kept her at home in the countryside for two months, but she was very sick, sometimes in a coma and sometimes out. She was malnourished, because our cattle can no longer give milk.

‘It’s getting harder and harder. It is difficult for us without milk from our animals. Some have died, while others are so weak that they cannot give milk. The drought is only getting worse and worse.

In the African clinic fighting to keep babies alive despite the famine

The future is bleak for moms like Saado, who brought her little daughter here (Photo: Armstrong Too / Plan International)

“We’ve been suffering for a long time. It has now been nine months of malnutrition and our livestock is exhausted. Some of our animals have died and some have become very weak. This one [lack of milk and clean water] means that our children have become ill with illnesses, such as diarrhea and vomiting.’

The future is bleak for Saado and many love her. The family’s animals are now too weak to sell and worthless, with inflation denying them even basic food supplies.

“I hope that we can live a good life, that our children get an education and that our lives get better,” she says. ‘I have a lot of hope. But we need more support for our communities struggling to survive. With support, and if our children can get an education, we’ll be better.’

In Somalia and the Republic of Somaliland, Ethiopia and Kenya, millions of people face life-threatening hunger. The UN has warned that 350,000 children in Somalia alone will die needlessly if urgent action is not taken.

“East Africa is in the throes of its worst drought in decades, and Somalia is seeing extreme, widespread hunger, with parts of the country at risk of famine,” said Sadia Allin, head of mission in Somalia and Somaliland. for the humanitarian charity Plan International. “The reality is that children are dying, and the loss of lives on a devastating scale is now a very real risk.

“Families go to bed with an empty stomach, not knowing if they have something to eat the next day. Even more painful is that mothers go to bed knowing that their child is crying because he or she is hungry.

“Unless humanitarian aid is urgently scaled up, many thousands will lose their lives. Currently, Plan International transports water to drought-stricken communities and provides emergency funds to help families facing severe food shortages. But we urgently need more money.’

With drought in Somalia/Somaliland already decimating entire communities, 760,000 people have fled their homes in search of food and water this year alone.

Thanks to the treatment, Sagal is now recovering. But she is just one of the shocking 1.5 million Somali children under five who may be malnourished by the end of this year, including 386,400 who are likely to be severely malnourished.

“She’s out of a coma,” says her mother Saado. “She is in better health right now. Her body is getting better. Thank God. I pray to God that we leave this place in good health.”

If you would like to make a donation to Plan International so they can continue to help the clinic and others affected by hunger, click here.

*Names have been changed

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