Fighting child hunger and malnutrition in Mali and worldwide

The story of baby Marie in Mali highlights the importance of finding long-term, sustainable solutions for hunger and child malnutrition around the world — and what we’re doing to accomplish just that.

By Justin Douglass, World Vision Mali
Published October 17, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

People who saw Marie were worried.

The 18-month-old girl was too thin. She had a cough, and there was something wrong with her throat.

A community health worker encouraged Marie’s parents to take the baby girl to the health center in their region of Mali.

“I am concerned about what to do in the future, and concerned about the future of Marie,” says Hawa, Marie’s mother. “I think about Marie’s food and her health.”

A dire diagnosis

At the clinic, the circumference of Marie’s arm was measured — a common way to identify malnutrition — and the little girl was diagnosed with the worst form of it.

She was immediately placed in a World Vision-funded outpatient therapy program, given medication, and administered a highly-nutritious supplement called Plumpy’nut™ to nurse her back to health.

Marie’s mother explains that this year’s drought across parts of West Africa led to her daughters’ condition.

“When we have a good harvest, we eat three times a day,” Hawa says. “Before last year’s harvest, we had more than 20 goats, but now, only five goats are left.”

Consequences of a poor harvest

In other years, Marie’s family has typically gotten a harvest that fills up 60 to 80 donkey carts. They grow maize, sorghum, and peanuts, and the harvest is enough to feed the family and their animals.

But last year was different. The severe drought left the family with only one donkey cart full of millet and about half a donkey cart of sorghum. The peanut and rice crops were a total failure.

For Marie and her family to survive, her parents had to sell their animals and buy food. The adults are eating only once a day now, and the children eat twice a day. Both are eating smaller amounts.

“The maize we buy in the market is not very nutritious because we get hungry [again] very quickly,” Hawa says, “but we have no choice and the price is very expensive now.”

A system for battling malnutrition

Dr. Kene Mark Guindo, a World Vision nutrition project manager, says health centers in this region are now better equipped to detect early cases of malnutrition. Previously, parents would have to wait until the child was extremely malnourished with complications and then visit the clinic.

Now, Guindo says, World Vision has trained health volunteers in villages to do proactive malnutrition screening once a month, which involves measuring the bicep to determine the health status of the child according to a color-coded diagram. Malnourished children are referred to the community health center.

A health volunteer covers 35 to 50 households in a village. The health worker also has a mobile pharmacy to treat common sicknesses like malaria, diarrhea, and fever.

Recovery — but risk remains

Marie’s life was saved when she started the outpatient therapy program and began eating Plumpy’nut every day, and she has gained weight.

“I am glad Marie can come to the outpatient therapy program, because she is sick,” Hawa says.

The lack of rain across West Africa has resulted in a severe drought, creating food shortages for over 3.5 million people in Mali, where the malnutrition rate is alarming.

To help address the crisis, World Vision plans to serve 10,364 acutely malnourished children up to age 6 in the area of Mali where Marie lives. Children in this age group are most vulnerable to malnutrition — and those who lack vital nutrition can be subject to permanent physical and mental stunting.

“I believe that during this difficult time that [Mali] is passing through, this program will certainly save children’s lives,” says San-San Dimache, World Vision’s nutrition advisor for West Africa.

October 16 was World Food Day. As we reflect on the importance of providing all people with access to basic nutrition, World Vision is focused not just on emergency aid — as we’re conducting right now in drought-stricken West Africa — but on long-term, sustainable solutions for food security and independence. We invite our supporters to join us in the goal of a hunger-free world.

Learn more

Read more about World Food Day and how you can become involved.

Read more about the drought and hunger crisis in West Africa on the World Vision Blog.

Three ways you can help

Please pray for children like Marie who are affected by hunger and malnutrition. Pray for rains to return to Mali and West Africa, and pray for a healthy harvest this year.

Make a one-time donation to help provide life-saving food and care to hungry children. Your gift will help deliver interventions like emergency food aid, agricultural assistance, nutritional training and support, medical care, and more in areas where hunger and malnutrition are a problem.

Give monthly to help provide care for hungry children. Your monthly contribution will support our efforts to fight global hunger and malnutrition over the long term.