Fighting acute malnutrition in Chad

The Republic of Chad is a landlocked country in Central Africa that faces recurrent extreme weather events such as severe droughts, or increasingly devastating floods. This changing climate has a terrible impact on the people living in the Batha region in the Sahel, who suffer from repeated food shortages linked to failing harvest and the difficulties of yielding crops from such arid lands. In July 2013 for example, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) in the region was 16.8% - significantly surpassing the 15% ceiling set by the World Health Organisation to qualify as a public health emergency.

In order to counter this worrying trend, between June and December 2013 the French Red Cross and the Red Cross of Chad implemented a project to reinforce health structures in the districts of Ati, Oum Hadjer and Yao. The programme aimed to manage and reduce cases of GAM through nutritional awareness raising with communities, as well as a range of supplementary curative, promotional and preventative services delivered in local health centres – the population’s first point of contact with Chad’s public health system.

A Red Cross volunteer weighs a small child and checks for signs of malnutrition. Photo: Rosemarie North / IFRC

Not only is malnutrition a major underlying cause of child mortality, but prolonged periods of under-nutrition can hamper a child's growth and development, sometimes irreversibly so. Furthermore, the health and wellbeing of the mother and child are intertwined, so project partners targeted their activities at pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under the age of five.

Activities included supporting the management of malnutrition cases in health centres, where patients received direct treatment such fluid replacement, or supplementary feeding. In collaboration with the centres’ nurses, Red Cross volunteers carried out appetite checks and body measurements to closely monitor ongoing treatments. They also approached people in their communities and conducted screenings to identify and address potential cases of malnutrition before they became severe.

As education plays a major role in strengthening community capacities to identify, manage and prevent cases of malnutrition, Red Cross volunteers taught locals about the signs to look out for; providing advice on safe food preparation, good hygiene practices, and what makes up a balanced diet. Weekly follow-up consultations with mothers and children were held at mobile feeding centres, where information sessions on issues surrounding prenatal care and child nutrition helped parents and families to better understand, anticipate and manage any risks.

This project was funded by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), which has been supporting the food security activities undertaken by the French Red Cross and the Red Cross of Chad since 2010. Between June and December 2013, over 16,500 malnourished children under the age of five were supported by the programme.