For Immediate Release
French Section of Doctors Without Borders Forced to Leave Niger
MSF Calls for Action to Ensure Malnourished Children Receive Treatment
PARIS/NIAMEY, Niger - On July 18, 2008, the Niger government, suddenly and without
explanation, terminated the medical and nutritional activities of the
French section of the international medical humanitarian organization
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the Maradi
region of Niger. This decision has had grave consequences on mortality
among young children.
Over the last three months, MSF has made every effort to determine
the reasons for this suspension, clarify its medical work, and redefine
with the Niger authorities the modes of its intervention in Maradi. On
October 21 in the capital, Niamey, in the face of the government's
refusal to authorize MSF to resume its activities, MSF called on the
President of the Republic to arbitrate. We have received only silence
in response. The French section of MSF has thus chosen to take formal
note of the government's position that "MSF leave."
The cessation of MSF's activities has occurred at the most difficult
time of year for young children-between the harvests, when malnutrition
rises, and at the height of the malaria season. On the suspension date,
more than 3,000 children were undergoing treatment and 500 new children
were admitted into the program weekly. In addition, the latest
nutritional survey, conducted in June 2008 by the government and
UNICEF, estimated the number of children in the Maradi region suffering
from acute malnutrition at between 35,000 and 67,000. These official
statistics contradict the Nigerien government's publicly stated reasons
for its decision to suspend the organization's activities in Maradi.
"Maradi is one of the regions in Niger most affected by
malnutrition," said Dr. Christophe Fournier, president of the
international board of MSF. "Since MSF's activities in southern Maradi
were halted, and despite an increase in admissions into other health
centers and MSF projects in the surrounding areas, thousands of
children are not receiving treatment. Given significant advances in the
field of malnutrition that now allows childhood malnutrition to be
prevented and treated on a large scale, it is shocking that a
government, after having allowed innovative programs to be established,
would ignore the needs of thousands of children," he said.
The departure of the French section of MSF comes at a time when
efforts to make progress in the fight against malnutrition are more
possible-and necessary-than ever. Malnutrition is a preventable and
treatable condition that must be recognized as a public health priority.
Countries affected by malnutrition, like Niger, and international
organizations have been slow to acknowledge the real possibilities
offered by new, ready-to-use nutritional products. The United Nations
does not recommend a specific approach for the major areas affected by
malnutrition and mortality, such as Maradi, and limits the use of
effective foods to the most severely undernourished children. Last,
international funding for malnutrition remains sorely inadequate.
MSF calls on the government of Niger, UNICEF, and the World Food
Program to take swift action in Maradi so that malnourished children
receive treatment. It also calls on donors to establish an
international policy and treatment approaches adapted to the major
areas affected by malnutrition.
MSF has been working in Niger
since 2001 and operates malnutrition treatment programs in the Zinder,
Maradi, and Tahoua regions. Between early 2008 and mid-September, a
total of 61,051 children suffering from acute malnutrition
were admitted into MSF feeding centers. In collaboration with health
authorities, MSF also provides epidemic response in Niger, treating
patients and carrying out vaccination campaigns. In 2008, it responded
to measles, meningitis and cholera epidemics. The MSF teams in Niger total 1,537 staff, including 1,468 Nigeriens.