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Struck by Malnutrition: ‘Humanitarian Catastrophe’ Looms in Nigeria’s Northeast

4.4 million people in the northeast are “severely food insecure” due to the war between Boko Haram and military

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Malnutrition in Nigeria. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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  • 4.4 million people in the northeast are “severely food insecure” due to the ongoing war between Boko Haram and the military of Nigeria and its neighbors
  • The fight against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria has gone on since 2009 and drawn in neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger
  • The WFP aims to get food assistance to 431,000 people by the end of the year 2016

Nigeria’s war-torn northeast has been struck by malnutrition and aid agencies had warned that it is so rife that part of the region could already be in a famine.

The United Nations says 4.4 million people in the northeast are “severely food insecure” due to the ongoing war between Boko Haram and the military of Nigeria and its neighbors.

Malnutrition children in Nigeria. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Malnutrition children in Nigeria. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Parts that are too dangerous or otherwise cut off from aid agencies could already be in a famine, a report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said.

“If we do not intervene, it’s going to be a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Sory Ouane, acting Nigeria country director for the World Food Program.

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States cut from aid

The fight against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria has gone on since 2009 and drawn in neighboring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. Over 20,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million forced to flee, with many ending up in squalid displaced person camps in Cameroon or in Nigerian cities such as Maiduguri, Bama, and Yola.

Refugee camp in Cameroon. Image Source: VoaNews
Refugee camp in Cameroon. Image Source: VoaNews

Starting in 2014, the militants began overrunning towns and cities in the northeast. Nigeria’s military has pushed the insurgents out of most of the areas they captured. But the months of fighting have cut parts of the northeastern Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states from aid.

Ouane blamed the fighting and ensuing disruptions in farms and marketplaces for the food insecurity. As more areas of the northeast become accessible to aid agencies, Ouane expects the need for food assistance to grow.

“We are highly concerned about the rising number of people facing hunger as their needs become clear,” Ouane said.

Six die daily from disease, malnutrition

Last month, Doctors Without Borders said as many as six people were dying daily from disease and malnutrition at a displaced person camp in Bama.

Nigerian women receiving food from WFP. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Nigerian women receiving food from WFP. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A National Emergency Management Agency official said many of the worst cases of malnutrition at the camp were people who had recently arrived from areas where no humanitarian assistance was available.

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The WFP aims to get food assistance to 431,000 people by the end of the year, Ouane said, but that could increase to 700,000 if the need grows as aid agencies access more areas.

“If we manage to reach them, we will contribute greatly to stabilize their nutrition status and their food security situation,” Ouane said. (VOA)

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UNAIDS : World Is At A “Defining Moment” In A Battle Against HIV/AIDS

36.7 million people globally are living with HIV

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Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014., VOA

The head of UNAIDS says the global community is at a “defining moment” in the effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“This midpoint is important for us to reflect on what was not working,” Michel Sidibe told VOA, noting this year marks the halfway point to agreed global targets. “It’s about how to deal with vulnerable communities, fragile society.”

According to 2016 data, 36.7 million people globally are living with HIV. There were nearly 2 million new infections and 1 million AIDS-related deaths.

But the good news is there has been success in expanding access to critical anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which reached nearly 21 million people in 2016, leading to a reduction by one-third in global AIDS-related deaths.

Eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission through childbirth and breast-feeding also has become a real possibility by 2030. This was considered a dream just a few years ago, Sidibe said.

“Today, we are seeing after six years that we reduced by almost 61 percent the infection among children — the transmission from mother to child,” Sidibe said. “But we still have 39 percent of babies born with HIV. We want to stop that and we are working very closely with countries who are lagging behind to make sure we have a catch-up plan.”

Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the 'March for Science' in Durban on April 14, 2018.
Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the ‘March for Science’ in Durban on April 14, 2018. VOA

Know your HIV status

The UNAIDS executive director says one of the most critical factors in ending the epidemic is making sure people are tested and know their HIV status. This requires lifting taboos and making testing more widely available.

“We need to reduce the price of self-testing; we need to go to community levels, family levels, to reach people where they are,” he said. “The family-centered approach and also community-based approach will become central to what we will do in the future, if we want to reach those millions of people who don’t know their status.”

A recent United Nations report on the AIDS response found that at the end of 2016, some 70 percent of people living with HIV knew their status, and 77 percent of them were accessing ARV therapy. Once on those treatments, 82 percent had suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in their systems. That is not a cure. HIV still remains in their body, but it greatly reduces the likelihood of transmission to a partner.

45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
VOA

Uneven progress

While there have been significant successes, progress is uneven, especially for women and adolescent girls. This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where females aged 15-24 accounted for 23 percent of new infections in 2016, compared to 11 percent for their male counterparts.

Sidibe says women and young girls face unique challenges, including cultural norms, child marriage and early pregnancies.

“It’s something which we need to address at not just a peripheral level, we need to deal with poverty, to deal with violence against women, to change the laws, to make sure we give them services,” he said.

In order to stop new HIV infections, other vulnerable populations also need a scaled-up response, including intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Working with at-risk groups and spreading awareness of the importance of condoms and single-needle use for drug addicts are all crucial to the fight against HIV.

Also read:HIV Infected Smokers More likely to die of lung cancer than AIDS, Reveals Indian-origin Researcher

Next month, thousands of experts, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS will meet in Amsterdam for the International AIDS conference. Special attention will be focused on the need to reach key populations, including in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, where epidemics have grown. (IANS)