Blogs - Hear from us
July 16, 2012 - Mali: Reaching the most remote | by Mike Penrose, Humanitarian Director
Save the Children prides itself on working in some of the most remote communities around the world, providing assistance to those not mentioned in the news headlines. As I watch our health staff methodically checking the line of children for signs of malnutrition in this remote health post in South West Mali,I really see this to be true.
A food crisis is currently raging across Mali –with 4.6 million people affected. This is more than the total population of Ireland. In response Save the Children is rapidly scaling up its work and supporting this community health outpost is just one aspect of this assistance.
Off the beaten track
We are a long way off beaten track - it took over 5 hours to reach this region from Bamako, the capital city and another hour across parched bush-land to reach this health outpost. Here mothers can access basic health care for their family, preventing some of the main killers of children – diarrhoea, malaria, respiratory infections and malnutrition. It is clearly a well known service - mothers arrive on the allocated day and time. They are familiar with the process and wait patiently for their turn.
In fact, different seasons bring different problems here in Mali. The rains bring Malaria, the following months signal diarrhoeal diseases and the winter brings colds and crippling respiratory infections. Malnutrition used to be one of these trends. It is now a constant. This year 175,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition.
While we are observing the well-ordered process, I meet Miame Diarra. She is just over 4 years old and has been suffering from a fever for over a week. Her mother presents her to the nurse at the health post and the news isn’t good. As the nurse wraps the simple measuring tape around her arm, she declares her to be moderately malnutrition. She is immediately referred to the health centre at the community level for further care.
All the women tell me that this health post makes all the difference to their lives and it is clear that without this grass-roots service, children like Miame Diarra would not be able to access basic health care and be referred in times of need.
However, this food crisis has devastated people’s livelihoods and if a child is referred to the next level of care, many families find it almost impossible to afford the travel and the costs incurred during a stay in a clinic that can last weeks. Only a small amount of money could pay for children like Miame Diarra and her mother to reach the help she desperately needs.
Too weak to plough the fields
Animals are often families’ main asset here in rural Mali, yet increasing numbers of animals are dying as a result of the lack of food and water. As I speak to a village elder, he explains that many of their animals were so weak they were unable to pull the plough, leaving families unable to capitalise on the rains and face a crippling second failed harvest.
However, last week Save the Children distributed vouchers that allowed families to purchase high quality animal fodder. They credit this assistance with keeping their animals alive. They now have the energy to plough the fields – providing hope for this year’s harvest and the prospect of food.
Grinding poverty is often a reality for the people of Mali and with the recent political upheaval and armed activity in the North there are huge challenges ahead, but I have come away encouraged by the energy of our staff and the knowledge that just a little help can go such a long way to save the lives of children like Miame Diarra.