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Nigeria: Part 2: The vitality and vulnerability of children

29 Mar 2018

Australian nurse Liam Correy describes how Médecins Sans Frontières is helping children in Borno State, Nigeria, regain lost weight – and the energy to join their playmates.

On our way to work in Maiduguri, Borno, Nigeria, we enter a kingdom of children. There are children everywhere! They sit on doorsteps looking out at the world beyond their family compound. Others walk hand in hand.

The back roads drive us into the heart of family life. I am witness to heart-warming displays of affection between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters. Everywhere children are also working. Their work seems mixed with play. They carry water, sell fast food, guide goats and prepare equipment for their entrepreneur mothers. I see independence, enthusiasm and achievement in their eyes.  

"Despite the resilience and vitality of the children, they are also vulnerable. Food can be scarce and children may not receive enough to maintain healthy growth rates"

Hundreds more children in coloured uniforms flood the streets on their way to and from school.  Every square metre of roadside is deserving of a child. As we turn each corner we are noticed and the cry goes out Bature! and they chant and dance Na-sa-ra, na-sa-ra (‘white person’ in Hausa and Arabic) until we disappear round the next corner.

Despite the resilience and vitality of the children, they are also vulnerable. Food can be scarce and children may not receive enough to maintain healthy growth rates. Displaced families who had farmed food for their children, have now had to adapt to survival in a city without land for them to farm.

MSF nutritional centres in Maiduguri admit children with severe acute malnutrition but no other complications into the outpatient feeding program until they regain their lost weight. Those who have medical complications are admitted into a 100-bed inpatient centre in which we treat the complications and provide nutritional support. In the time I have worked in the nutritional centre we have admitted around 3,700 patients into the program and discharged 1,800 as cured.

On our way home from work we pass a corner where dozens of children run out from their families’ makeshift shelters and chant at the top of their voices, their eyes animated and smiles broad. I recognise the same children and wave back enthusiastically. It feels like a competition of enthusiasm. Those who can walk, leap to their feet and sprint towards the car. Those who can only crawl do the same. These children win the competition every time. MSF’s work is focussed on bringing more children back to good health so they also have the energy to play.