15 September 2016

Benedicte Latoumbayle, 28, from Bokoro, Chad. Benedict is a Nurse at MSF’s therapeutic feeding centre and intensive care unit in Bokoro town, Chad.

fighing malnutrition in Chad
Benedicte Latoumbayle, 28, is a nurse from Bokoro. She works at the MSF intensive care unit for malnourished children in Bokoro. Photo: Charlotte Morris

I started working with MSF four and a half years ago. As a Chadian I saw what my people were going through and MSF’s principles of helping people in distress really resonated with me. I’m very happy that I get to help my people.

I arrive early in the mornings and check all of the children’s vital signs. We do this every hour as many of the children in the therapeutic feeding centre are very ill, and for the really ill ones we check on them every 10 to 15 minutes. From the moment I get here I’m really busy. I arrive at 7.30 every morning and, apart from a short break for lunch, I don’t stop until 5.30 pm. If you waste any time, this can have terrible consequences for the health of the children. A malnourished child that isn’t well can fall into death very quickly.

There is a serious problem in this region with malnutrition. There isn’t enough to eat. Here in the desert it’s not good for growing food. Women’s husbands often leave them here alone whilst they travel to other parts of the country to find work, but before they return it’s hard for the women and their children.

MSF teams weigh babies and children, measure their upper arm circumference and check they have an appetite. They also give a measles vaccination or medication for malaria at the MSF mobile malnutrition clinic in the centre of Gama. Photo: Charlotte Morris  

But it’s also because of harmful customs and traditions. Some mums here say that when their child is born, their breastmilk isn’t any good. They think that breastfeeding will harm future children in their womb. To fight malnutrition here, education is key.

Sadly a child died today. When the child arrived he had very bad malaria. At home they had given him something to eat as part of a traditional medicine procedure which had poisoned him. When the child arrived here at the clinic we did everything we could. It hurts a lot to see a child like that. The only thing I can say to the mum is that the reason your child died is because of what you gave it to eat. And sometimes the mums tell us that their other children went through the same traditional procedure and they’re also ill at home. Then we have to go and find the other children straight away and bring them to the hospital too.

It’s miserable to see so many children suffering in front of you but it’s also this that motivates me to keep going and to help them. I have a daughter of my own who is 19 months old. She’s healthy but it can be difficult seeing children the same age that are so ill. I want my daughter to exceed me. I’m a nurse but I think with the right support and strength she can do even better than that.

I think everything MSF has done for malnourished children here is amazing. There isn’t a health centre in Chad that would be able to take responsibility for all these ill children. They don’t have the expertise or resources. It’s not an easy job.

Find out more about MSF's work in Chad.