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Somalia: Malnourished Children Recovering Well at Somaliland Stabilisation Centre

A Medair-supported health facility saves the lives of young children on the brink of death.

For 22-year-old Kaltuun Husein, daily life in eastern Somaliland once centered around caring for her young children and tending the family’s livestock.

But consecutive years of drought changed everything. “Before we had 80 sheep and five camels,” she says. “Now we only have 10 sheep left.”

In Somaliland, owning livestock such as camels, goats, and sheep provides families with economic security.  A Somali proverb says, “He who does not own a camel lives under the protection of others.” But drought has decimated the animal population, especially in eastern Somaliland, leaving families with very limited sources of food or ways to earn an income.  “The situation now is very different from before,” says Kaltuun. “Most people have lost their animals and... life is very difficult.”

Last month, Kaltuun’s youngest child, Hibo, fell ill. “We hoped she would get better, but she got worse and worse,” says Kaltuun.

At the nearest health facility in the Sool Region where she lives , they were told that, in her condition, Hibo would need to be treated at the Stabilisation Centre in Burao city. “By the time we got to Burao, my daughter was so weak she could not cry,” says Kaltuun. “I thought she would die.”

Kaltuun holds her daughter Hibo during their second day at the Stabilisation Centre.

Kaltuun holds her daughter Hibo during their second day at the Stabilisation Centre.

At the Medair-supported Stabilisation Centre in the Burao hospital, children under five are admitted if they suffer from severe malnutrition and if they have additional complications such as diarrhoea, vomiting, or a respiratory infection.

Since Februrary 2011, Medair has been providing comprehensive support to the Stabilisation Centre. We train and supervise staff on managing children with severe acute malnutrition. In collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, we provide health staff with the equipment and medicine they need to treat children under five who are affected by severe malnutrition. This project is supported by the Directorate-General  for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection of the European Commission, the Department for International Development (U.K.), UNICEF, and private donations.

In the past few years, hundreds of sick children from all around Burao have been referred to the Stabilisation Centre. Now, with our programme expanding into new regions of Somaliland, the centre is seeing more children arriving from farther away.

“With the drought over the past year, we have seen very many sick children here,” says Sayneb Husein, the senior nurse working at the centre. "They always have severe malnutrition and additional complications—respiratory problems are common, also gastroenteritis, which leads to diarrhoea and vomiting.”

Nurse Sayneb Husein at work in the Stabilisation Centre.

Nurse Sayneb Husein at work in the Stabilisation Centre.

When Kaltuun arrived with her sick child, health staff diagnosed the baby girl with severe malnutrition and diarrhoea. They put Hibo on the centre’s standard treatment: a course of  antibiotics, vitamin A, de-worming medicine, measles vaccine, and therapeutic milk to help her gain weight.

In 2011, more than 80 percent of the children admitted to the centre recovered. “It is amazing to see life returning to a child,” says Sayneb. “When they come in they are weak but by the time they leave, they are moving around and making a lot of noise.”

When children are discharged, they are monitored by a community nutrition programme to ensure the families remain well supported and the children continue to gain weight.

“The smallest child I have ever seen at the centre was only a week old and weighed less than 1.8 kilograms [four pounds],” says Sayneb. “When I first saw him, I was shocked. He was so small and looked so fragile. But he got better. When I saw him gradually gaining weight, growing bigger and stronger, I was very encouraged.”

Staff at the centre spend time educating mothers about healthy feeding practices. “A lot of women bring baby bottles when they come here,” says Sayneb. “But we advise them that breastfeeding is the healthiest way.”

After just five days of treatment, baby Hibo had gained weight and begun to show encouraging signs of recovery. “The nurses here are very skilled and they are really helping my daughter,” says Kaltuun.

Hibo begins to show encouraging signs of recovery by her fifth day at the centre.

Hibo begins to show encouraging signs of recovery by her fifth day at the centre.

When Hibo’s treatment began, she was unable to make a noise even when she was being injected. “Now, when she gets an injection, she cries out,” says Kaltuun. “She is also moving around and playing a lot more. I am surprised that my daughter has got well so quickly. Soon I hope to take her home.”

Days earlier, a fearful Kaltuun had believed that Hibo was going to die. Today she speaks excitedly about what it will be like to watch her daughter grow up. “I want to teach her and send her to school, perhaps abroad, to get a good education. My dream is for her to become a teacher.”

“The Stabilisation Centre is an amazing place—you see wonders every week,” says nurse Sayneb. “Although things are very difficult in Somaliland at the moment, I am sure that the situation in Burao will get better because of the help we are receiving from Medair. The staff get good training here and I feel proud to be helping save children’s lives.”


Medair’s work in Somaliland is supported by Swiss Solidarity, the E.C. Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection,  Word and Deed, Help a Child,  EO-Metterdaad, the Department for International Development  (U.K.), UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and private donations from Medair supporters.

Millions are facing severe food shortages in the Horn of Africa following years of drought. Medair is responding to the emergency in Somaliland, adding to the programmes we have been running since 2008 to offer additional life-saving health, nutrition, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) services. In September 2011, we began an emergency response in the eastern Sool and Sanaag regions.  Read more about Medair’s work in Somalia/Somaliland.

Somaliland declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991. Its independence has not been recognised by the international community.

This web update was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.



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