Mothers Of Malnourished Children Not To Blame For Resale Of Therapeutic Foods, Say MSF

Accusing mothers of malnourished children of selling therapeutic food is a well-worn trope in malnutrition treatment programmes worldwide – and one that has resurfaced in Nigeria, stirred up by health workers and the media, says the Head of Emergencies for MSF.

The illegal sale of Ready To Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs) should not be put on indigent mothers of malnourished children, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a leading international medical organisation has said.

HumAngle had previously published a report where it highlighted the illegal trade of RUTFs in the Northeast state of Borno as well as the role of some mothers of malnourished children in diverting the important food (aid) items.

But the MSF in a report written by its Head Of Emergencies, Michel O. Lacharite, emphatically states that mothers of malnourished children are hardly the culprits of the crime and are being misrepresented by medical workers and the media to be so.

While the humanitarian organisation recognises that there are indeed instances where mothers have been seen reselling sachets, it says the firsthand data from its operation in Katsina state, Northwest Nigeria shows that  “the practice of diversion and sale is not as widespread as is being presented.”

“Data from our Katsina project suggests that the therapeutic food we distribute is being consumed by those for whom it is intended,” the report said.

“Severely malnourished children admitted to the ambulatory programme in Katsina state in 2022 consumed an average of 117 sachets of therapeutic food, gaining an average of 1.53 kg after an average stay of 53 days— figures which correspond to treatment guidelines and are in line with our malnutrition programme elsewhere,” the report adds.

According to MSF, “the few trays of sachets found in market stalls” are not proportionate to the large amount that it had distributed in the past year and cannot be compared either but “any complete cartons found at resale sites are likely the result of diversion by people working in the health system, NGO workers, UN agencies, or the ministry of health because mothers have no access to whole cartons, only to individual sachets.”

The MSF says that it tries to prevent the diversion of RUTFs from the primary source by putting in place a thorough measure that not only ensures that all of the purchased items are delivered to its warehouses, but that outflows from its warehouses also correspond to the volume of activity that it records.

“We also guard against the same child being enrolled in our  programme several times through the use of henna, identification bracelets, and measuring the height and weight of children to look for unexpected changes.”

RUTFs are milk and peanut-based pastes packed with nutrients and administered in sachets to severely malnourished or wasting children to nurse them back to full health.

MSF currently runs its “largest malnutrition programme” ever, in Nigeria’s Katsina state, where food insecurity has been exacerbated by armed violence, climate change, and poverty.

In 2022 alone, the medical NGO admitted over 107, 000 children into its treatment programme in the state with most of the children who required medical attention “at the risk of dying.” 

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Chigozie Victor

Chigozie Victor is a journalist and a creative writer. Her work focuses on SGBV, policy and security infrastructure. The graduate of English and Literature from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka is passionate about helping audiences understand salient issues through clear reporting and multimedia journalism. She tweets at @nwaanyi_manaria

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