Traditions in Chad harm, kill underfed children
By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, AP
MOUSSORO, Chad — On the day of their son's surgery, the family woke before dawn. They saddled their horses and set out across the 12-mile-long carpet of sand to the nearest town, where they hoped the reputed doctor would cure their frail, feverish baby.
The neighboring town, almost as poor and isolated as their own, hosts a foreign-run emergency clinic for malnourished children. But that's not where the family headed.
The doctor they chose treats patients behind a mud wall. His operating room is the sand lot that serves as his front yard. His operating table is a plastic mat lying on the dirt. His surgical tools include a screwdriver. And his remedy for malnourished children is the removal, without antiseptic or anesthesia, of their teeth and epiglottis.
That day, three other children were brought to the same traditional doctor, their parents paying up to $6 for a visit, or more than a week's earnings. Not even a mile away, the UNICEF-funded clinic by contrast admitted just one child for its free service, delivered by trained medical professionals.
The 4:1 ratio that you see in this sandy courtyard on just one day in just one town is a microcosm of what is happening all over Chad, and it helps to explain why, despite an enormous, international intervention, malnutrition continues to soar to scandalous levels throughout the Sahel.
The world poured more than $1 billion into the band of countries just south of Africa's vast Sahara Desert to address hunger this year alone, according to a United Nations database. A third of that money went to Chad, where 15 percent of children are acutely malnourished, says a report by aid group Save the Children. That's among the highest rates in Africa.
There are now 32 clinics equipped with the latest technology to halt starvation, most within a few hours' walk of affected families. If a child makes it to one of these centers in time, the chance of survival is remarkably high.
Yet acute malnutrition is only getting worse in the Sahel, where every year, cemeteries fill up with the bodies of children who wasted away within walking distance of help.
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