Mogadishu: 44% of children in hospital severely hungry

Thursday, September 22, 2011

By Rainer Lang

It’s a wonder the clinic is still running. In the capital of Somali, Mogadishu, 20 years of civil war have left nothing but ruins and many parts of the city look like they’ve been hit by an earthquake. But ironically, people are still fleeing to this apocalyptic scene. Their desperate need for food and water eclipses all else.

Husien Hassan saw no choice but to go too. Severe drought had killed most of his cattle, the food had gone and his four-year-old daughter, Fadumo, had got measles. When she was finally taken to Banadir Hospital, Fadumo was so sick and weak there seemed only a slim chance of survival.

Banadir specialises in treating children under five. Right now there are 260 children among the 400 patients. "Often it is too late [by the time] the parents bring them,” the doctor said. “Especially, when they are not only severely malnourished and dehydrated but also have measles or diarrhoea.”

Could not afford to leave
Every day, about 1000 hungry refugees arrive in Mogadishu and with them, the risk of an epidemic. Of particular concern is the recent increase in the number of cases of measles and acute watery diarrhoea. But medical care in this city destroyed by civil war is nearly non-existent. Health centres and hospitals are dilapidated. In addition, there is a shortage of medicines and medical equipment.

Paradoxically, needs increased after Al Shabaab militia retreated from Mogadishu. The militia did not allow Husien Hassan and his family to leave their home for free. He had to pay "taxes" of US$ 2.50 for each head of cattle to Al Shabaab. But for many families in his neighbourhood, this was unaffordable or a heavy burden.

Tons of medicines
In the last few months, 44 per cent of children admitted to Banadir have showed signs of acute malnutrition. A further 14 per cent are severely malnourished. Somali doctors are desperate: 40 children die each week. Besides malnutrition, it is diarrhoea, malaria and measles that are the main causes of death in children. The immune systems of their weakened bodies are unable to withstand disease. Very few children are sufficiently vaccinated.

In early February, ACT member Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH) provided Banadir and three others in Mogadishu with six months supply of medicines and medical supplies. Stocks are already rapidly running out. It has given US $720,000 for extra medical supplies. Recently, DKH flew in more than 15 tons of medicines and equipment. With affiliated mobile health services, which care for displaced people in camps in and around Mogadishu, the hospital can reach some 100,000 displaced and drought-hit people.

Husein Hassan left his 15-year-old son with his grandmother back in the village to look after the 10 animals that are still alive. He would love to go back but sees no chance. His other children are in bad shape too. He simply cannot leave his little girl Fadumo alone in the hospital. She still needs treatment. But today doctors bring good news: she will survive.