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Mobile Units Protect Children from Malnutrition in Niger

Plan International's mobile unit is ensuring that Myriam's health and education needs are being met.

In a remote village in Niger, 38-year-old Myriam struggles to cool her 2-year-old twins.

Recent wind storms blew part of the roof off her makeshift straw hut, leaving large patches that allow the piercing sun’s rays to enter.

Myriam’s daughter, Awa, staggers slowly and slumps at her feet. At the sight of strangers, her brother Adam, lets out a fading squeaking cry, frowns in pain, and hides his small body in his mother’s hijab.

Myriam and her twins are among the 127,000 internally displaced people strewn across the open and far-stretching Diffa hinterland. In 2015, while pregnant with the twins, Myriam and her two other young children joined the masses fleeing indiscriminate attacks on their village close to the border with Nigeria.

She trekked on foot for many days before eventually settling in a remote village. But the insurgents pursued them, killing many and abducting 36 girls. Again, Myriam was forced to move with her children until they found a safer location.

Using old cloths, plastic sheeting, and wooden poles, she constructed her improvised tent and settled in a village that was already home to 1,300 other refugees. As more people continued to arrive, mostly women, the elderly, and children, spontaneous dwellings sprang up all around.

Despite surviving the violence, the family still faces a daily struggle: there is a severe food and water shortage, which is causing widespread starvation among the settlers.

Like Awa and Adam, thousands of children in Diffa are severely malnourished and suffering from stunted growth. Poor sanitation conditions in the displacement camps are further exacerbating the health situation of a population already weakened by the ongoing crisis in the Lake Chad basin area.

Being trapped in the remote and dry village, with no source of income, Myriam was pushed to the edge of survival.

“My children are sick because they have no food in their bodies,” she said. “Since birth, they had not enjoyed a constant supply of food. I know they could have died, but miraculously, Plan International came here. I practice at home diligently the new teachings I receive on nutrition and health. I see my children improving daily.”

Myriam is referring to Plan’s Mobile Unit that visits her village and other hard-to-reach locations in Niger with gender and age-appropriate multi-sector services, information, and referrals to address children’s immediate protection, nutrition, health, and education needs—with a particular focus on vulnerable young women and girls.

The mobile team disseminates nutritional advice and provides general health screening through a certified doctor and nutrition officer. Cases of malnutrition are referred to government and nongovernmental organization partners for clinical health services.

Community volunteers make follow-up visits to malnourished children to ensure they have received the needed treatments, while the nutrition officer provides breastfeeding counselling to pregnant and lactating women and offers advice on infant and young child feeding.

Plan has 15 Mobile Units operating in the Lake Chad Region, covering Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, visiting different locations each day.

Myriam’s twins are now stable and receiving nutritional support. However, there are still areas under the control of insurgents where aid workers cannot reach, and people’s fate remains unknown.

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