Senegal is not the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of humanitarian crises. Home to one of Africa’s most stable democracies and largely unaffected by the Ebola crisis which ravaged its southern neighbours, Senegal is often thought of as the regional hub of business, culture and tourism in West Africa. And yet, in the desert-like Northern regions of Matam and Saint Louis along the Mauritanian border, between 10,000 and 12,000 children under five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) yearly in a persistent annual crisis.
The Situation: Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM)
Droughts and land degradation, coupled with a lack of diversify of local agriculture and poor sanitary conditions have led to increased illness, disease and reduced access to vital micronutrients, particularly among pregnant and lactating mothers, infants and young children. The situation hits its peak in the summer months from June to August, when temperatures regularly top 45 degrees and food supplies are short. In the department of Podor, according to a SMART survey carried out in 2014, 4% of children under five suffered from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) – this is twice the 2% rate that defines an “emergency” situation.
ACF’s Response in Senegal
In response to this situation, since 2012 ACF has been working with local health clinics and hospitals in Northern Senegal to reduce child mortality due to SAM. ACF staff provide training to health professionals on the diagnosis and treatment of SAM, and ensure that hospitals and local clinics are equipped with enriched formula products as well as sanitation kits for local families. Nutrition formulas are provided to many children on an outpatient basis with follow-up ensured by local teams, while the most severe cases with complications are hospitalized. ACF teams are also leading awareness-raising sessions for local populations on good hygiene and sanitation practices in order to reduce the prevalence of illness and disease.
ACF Canada’s James Buchanan visited Senegal in May 2015. “Local teams highlight the significant lack of hospital beds and trained personnel in the area among their biggest concerns”, he mentions. “There are only two pediatricians in all of Matam region, and one of them is from ACF – without continued support from ACF under-nourished children will not get the care they need”. Another significant challenge is the vast distances between villages and the isolation of many communities: “Many local clinics are located far off the main roads in highly isolated areas”, James notes, “ACF outreach officers must brave the heat and poor road conditions on a daily basis to ensure that health clinics have sufficient medical supplies to meet local needs, and that families receive on-going follow-up”.
As the situation shows no signs of abating in the years to come, ACF is also planning future longer-term actions to address the root causes of malnutrition in the Northern regions. This includes supporting local agricultural and livestock farmers to improve and diversity their production, as well as working with local production units to increase the nutritional value of foods available on local markets. ACF will also support the creation of community gardens to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables for local families. Finally, ACF is planning on working with local authorities and community leaders to develop crisis response mechanisms, while also working with government agencies to improve early response mechanisms for cases of moderate acute malnutrition.