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How will Chad respond to continuing child malnutrition?

Over the last year, a whole host of international agencies have been working in Chad to reduce the number of child deaths from malnutrition.

At the height of the food crisis caused by the severe drought across the Sahel region, an estimated 1.2 million people were in need of emergency food assistance – see 'Emergency food aid shipments arrive in Chad'.

However, emergency centres set up by international agencies are now closing as the food situation stabilises. For example, in central-southern Chad, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treated its last patient at its makeshift clinic in Bokoro. Since July last year, this one clinic alone has treated over 4,000 children for severe malnutrition. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, one the clinic’s paediatricians said “it’s good news that patients have stopped coming”.

But there is general concern about how the country will cope in the future. In the Bokoro district for example, there is just one doctor at the local hospital, which has to cater for a population of nearly 250,000 people. As with most hospitals and health centres across Chad, the facility also lacks nursing staff and equipment. It’s the same for health centres; fewer than half in the district have cold storage for medicines and vaccines.

According to the UN’s child agency (UNICEF), a third of children in Chad aged between 12- 23 months go unvaccinated against common childhood diseases such as measles. Illnesses among children also tend to be severe because of widespread malnutrition, which is the cause of more than half of deaths among the under-fives. In some parts of the country, rates of malnutrition remain almost continually above the World Health Organization’s ‘emergency’ threshold of 15% - see 'Malnutrition levels rise among children in Chad'.

In the past, Chad’s government has spent just 3% of its budget on health. However, there have been repeated calls for this spending to rise. Speaking to IRIN, UNICEF’s representative in Chad talks about the imperative of “strengthening the health system and establishing preventative and curative measures to fight child mortality.” Greater investment in the health sector is seen as one of the key ways for Chad to address its long-term health and malnutrition problems. In 2012, ministers therefore pledged to raise health spending to 15% of the budget. Agencies are hoping this promise will be put into effect. Otherwise, it won’t be long before emergency medical teams are likely to be needed back again.

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