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Distress, sorrow as caregivers struggle to save malnourished children in Katsina

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An encounter with caregivers and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff members in Katsina State has shed light on the deeply distressing circumstances faced by mothers striving to save their malnourished children in the face of overwhelming challenges.

DAILY POST reports that at the Kofar Marusa MSF Facility in Katsina State capital, a poignant spectacle unfolds daily as a multitude of caregivers flock the facility, clutching their severely malnourished children in desperation.

Observing this procession, one is compelled to marvel at how MSF manages the overwhelming influx of caregivers who gather there daily.

These cases of malnutrition are not limited to the Katsina metropolis as the majority of severe cases are said to be from other local governments within the state, particularly those grappling with insecurity.

At the heart of the crisis, within the Kofar Marusa MSF Facility, a dedicated staff nurse named Fatima Mannir bears witness to the anguish that defines the situation.

Fatima’s voice trembles with emotion as she attempts to encapsulate the enormity of the distress.

“What we are witnessing here in Katsina is truly harrowing. The conditions and the sheer number of children seeking aid are beyond what words can convey, especially now that we are in the peak period,” she said

Her voice breaks as she continues, “The images we confront daily are almost beyond comprehension.

“Some of the mothers arrive here in dire need, hungry and as malnourished adults themselves. Their resilience in the face of adversity is remarkable, I must admit.

“Even as workers, it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by the sight of these children. The depths of their suffering are heart-wrenching. To see young lives endure such hardship is a tragedy.”

Recalling a recent encounter, Fatima’s voice quivers, “Attending to a child admitted yesterday was particularly poignant. Severely dehydrated, suffering from severe hypoglycemia, this child had been brought from an area rife with insecurity in Katsina. The conditions these children face are dire.”

For some caregivers, the crisis has stripped them to the extreme.

One mother, her voice weary, recounted their plight: “We’ve survived on ‘Garri Rogo,’ cassava, for God knows how long. It’s the only affordable sustenance in our deprived Batsari community.”

As she envisions her child’s fate post-treatment, Fatima’s question hangs in the air, “Imagine the child’s destiny once returned to their war-torn community, sustained solely by ‘Garrin Rogo.’”

The shadows of hardship also cast their pall on another caregiver within the Kofar Sauri MSF Facility.

Her baby, once in the throes of severe malnutrition, now stabilises as they await discharge.

Gazing upon her child, she reveals the bitter reality, “My husband, once a driver, lost his legs in an accident. Now, we depend on begging for survival.”

Fatima further exposes the arduous journeys undertaken by caregivers, traversing long distances and facing perilous circumstances in their pursuit of solutions for their malnourished children.

Some caregivers revealed disturbing accounts of assaults, kidnappings, and even instances of rape by bandits during their quest for medical aid.

However, the victims, particularly those subjected to sexual assault, remain reticent in sharing their stories.

Their silence stems from the fear of stigmatisation and retribution from their husbands and families. Despite these ordeals, these resilient caregivers, driven by their maternal instincts, continue to press on to safeguard their children’s health.

Nurse Fatima’s eyes welled up with tears as she reflected on the mothers who navigate perilous roads and brave untold dangers to secure treatment for their children.

“Sitting with these caregivers, you begin to grasp the extent of their sacrifices. Many arrive with tales of road attacks, of escaping danger to reach this place. Maternal love knows no bounds; they endure any risk to safeguard their children,” she stated.

Malam Hassan Issa, MSF Project Coordinator for Katsina State, corroborated these harrowing experiences, acknowledging the receipt of reports detailing such incidents.

He, however, likens it to “drops of water from the sea.”

Hassan’s metaphor underscores the scale of suffering that often remains concealed behind the data.

Insecurity compounding malnutrition crisis

Shuaib Abubakar, the Field Officer at Kofar Marusa Facility, underscored the broader implications of insecurity on the nutritional well-being of families.

He states with conviction: “Insecurity stands as a primary force behind this crisis. Consider the predicament when communities cannot access their farmlands, they are denied the means to farm and provide for their families.

“The very foundations of their livelihoods crumble, leaving them unable to adequately nourish their loved ones, leading to dire consequences.”

PHC Accessibility issues

Equally pertinent to the crisis is the issue of accessibility. MSF Medical Team Leader for Katsina, Harriet Ayikoru, sheds light on the intricate issue of accessibility faced by caregivers in terms of proximity to medical services.

He said even if the services were available, the physical and security-related barriers the caregivers grapple will cast a dark cloud over their efforts.

“Take the Jibia axis for instance, where accessibility is fraught with complexities, yet, determined mothers continue to bring their children for treatment here,” he revealed.

Ayikoru shares poignant stories of mothers braving circumstances that most would deem insurmountable.

According to him, “There are mothers who tell us, ‘Last night, our village was attacked. Yet I had to come this morning to bring my child to the hospital.’ They navigate through public transportation or other routes, sometimes even being halted by bandits, and remarkably, these mothers persevere and journey on”.

Poor diagnosis of malnutrition cases

Beyond security and accessibility challenges, another core contributor to Katsina’s malnutrition crisis stems from misdiagnosis at hospitals and primary healthcare centres in the state.

Many recount a repetitive cycle of visiting health centres with their ailing infants, only to be handed diagnoses of malaria and other ailments that invariably prove inaccurate. This pattern of flawed diagnoses raises the question: how many malnourished children’s conditions have been misunderstood, leading to prolonged suffering and even exacerbation of their health woes?

Yet, amidst the tales of despair and misdiagnosis, a glimmer of hope emerges.

Neighbours who have sought help at MSF Facilities share stories of transformed outcomes, sparking a significant shift in their perceptions of healthcare delivery. These stories are testament to the critical role played by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), providing a haven of accurate diagnoses and effective treatment for the most vulnerable.

One caregiver, identified only as Maryam, encapsulates the emotions of countless mothers who have found solace at MSF Facilities.

She recounts her journey of desperation and the life-altering discovery of the facility.

“I treated my baby countless times for malaria following diagnosis and prescription from a health centre in our community but to no avail,” Maryam shared.

“But ever since I was introduced to this MSF, my baby got her life back. Words cannot express the joy I feel for discovering this place,” she stated.

Fathers missing in action as caregivers

Another disturbing issue witnessed at the MSF Facility in Katsina, perpetually filled to capacity with mothers who brought their malnourished children for treatment is the absence of their male counterparts- the children’s father.

Fatima describes the nonchalant attitude of the fathers’ of the malnourished children presented to the MSF facilities as worrisome.

“It’s truly worrisome to witness the prevailing absence of fathers here.

“Among a hundred malnourished children seeking care, the presence of fathers is scarce- almost an anomaly. The indifferent stance displayed by these fathers is alarming,” Fatima noted.

Striving to alter this disheartening narrative, Fatima noted that staff at the facility has adopted strategies to encourage father involvement.

“We’ve even gone so far as to extend special consideration to fathers who accompany their wives to our facility,” Fatima explained, adding that despite these efforts, the response remains lacklustre.

She observed that while some of the caregivers are single mothers, most of them seem to be married to irresponsible husbands.

She said: “Regrettably, the majority of caregivers here seem to be wedded to men who show little inclination to shoulder their parental responsibilities.

“It’s regrettable to observe that many of the caregivers are hooked up with men who display a disconcerting lack of readiness to assume responsibility for their own children. While they excel at ushering life into the world, nurturing their offspring remains conspicuously absent from their concerns.”

Fatima’s observations underscore a broader societal concern, shedding light on the importance of promoting equal participation of fathers in childcare responsibilities.

As organisations like MSF continue to address issues related to malnutrition and its consequences, addressing such systemic imbalances becomes essential to fostering a more equitable caregiving environment within families.

How MSF is managing the situation

Harriet Ayikoru, the Medical Team Leader of MSF in Katsina, sheds light on the intricate tapestry of challenges and collaborative efforts that define their mission.

“The situation is undeniably intense, and it necessitates more hands for comprehensive coverage,” concedes Harriet.

“The truth is, MSF cannot navigate this journey alone,” she admits, her words infused with a raw authenticity.

Katsina Government’s efforts

Amidst the intricate web of challenges facing Katsina State, Governor Malam Dikko Umaru Radda has embarked on a multi-faceted approach aimed at cushioning the impact of child and maternal mortality, addressing security concerns, and bolstering healthcare infrastructure.

In a move to enhance emergency response and medical care accessibility in rural areas, Governor Radda pledged to establish 361 fully functional healthcare facilities across the state within his four-year tenure.

He also revealed plans to acquire mobile ambulances and tricycles to ease transportation challenges and provide essential first aid treatment to patients during emergency cases.

“These facilities will provide round-the-clock services for childbirth and maternal issues, serving as crucial lifelines for expectant mothers and infants,” Radda noted at a function recently.

Governor Radda further emphasised his commitment to addressing the dearth of medical personnel across rural health facilities, with only 15 doctors available to serve in its primary healthcare centres while the requirement is a staggering 296 across the state’s 34 local government areas with a population of over 10 million.

In a bid to tackle the alarming scarcity of doctors in Katsina State, Governor Radda has unveiled the “Future Doctor Program” aimed at nurturing a new generation of medical professionals for the state who will be strategically deployed to serve in the 34 local government areas of the state.

Radda, who unveiled the initiative during an advocacy visit by a team of international development partners led by the Country Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Walter Kazadi Molumbo, disclosed that 34 promising students, all natives of Katsina State, will be granted academic scholarships to study medicine at renowned universities both within the country and abroad.

The Governor also directed a staff audit to ascertain the capacity and specialisation of existing medical staff, which will be followed by a recruitment drive that will prioritise applicants from local communities.

Also, of grave concern is the state’s security landscape with the activities of bandits and terrorists threatening the lives and stability of innocent citizens.

Governor Radda’s administration has taken a strong stance against such threats.

So far, Radda has created the Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs and initiated the “Katsina Community See Corps” to collaborate with existing security agencies, pooling efforts to combat crime and restore peace within the state.

The state has also begun recruitment of 2,400 local security cadet volunteers to provide security in various parts of the state ravaged by the marauding activities of terrorists and armed bandits.

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