Somalia: Two mothers’ impossible decision

Fawsiyo sits on a bed in the hospital rocking and soothing her crying six month old son Mawlid in rural Somalia. About 10 days ago, Mawlid started vomiting and having diarrhea and it continued for days. Fawsiyo’s husband had traveled into the city looking for work due to the severe drought in the area and resulting food crisis, so she was caring for their five children alone. Now, one was extremely ill.

Fawsiyo knew she needed to get Mawlid to the hospital, but she couldn’t leave her other four young children alone. All she could do was wait and hope that Mawlid didn’t die before her husband got home.

For two days, Fawsiyo waited in agony for her husband to return before she was able to get Mawlid to the hospital – luckily, she arrived in time. Many children are not so lucky though.

“This is a very common problem. After the drought has killed all of their livestock, many of the men are leaving their wives and children at home to come into the cities to find day labour,” said Hamdi, a nutrition coordinator at CARE in Somalia. “Many mothers who are alone with no one to help them with their young children, will find themselves in a position where they have to compromise the life of one child to save the others.”

Halimo is another mother whose 18 month-old daughter, Samira, has been suffering from diarrhea. She’s been hoping that Samira would get better, because she can’t leave her four other children at home alone. Yesterday, a CARE community health worker visited her house, examined Samira and encouraged Halimo to take her to the CARE nutrition center immediately for a medical screening.

After coming to the nutrition center to get Samira seen by a CARE health worker, Halimo learned that her daughter not only was suffering from severe malnutrition, but she also has measles. She could not delay getting her baby to the hospital any longer.

Cases of measles are sweeping across Somalia. Measles thrives in congested, unsanitary environments, and with nearly 700,000 people displaced because of the drought, the number of people in camps are increasing significantly.

In the displaced persons camps, CARE is providing nutrition screening and running treatment centers for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and children under five and have treated over 11,000 severely malnourished children. At the center, children are weighed and their arm circumference is measured to determine their nutrition level. Children like Samira who are severely malnourished and have medical complications such as measles are then referred to the nearby hospital for more advanced emergency treatment.

Once at the hospital, Halimo comforts her sick baby – relieved that Samira will get treatment, but worried about her other children back home without her.

More than 20 million people are facing starvation in Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.

Families in parts of Africa and Yemen now urgently need help, including nearly 1.4 million children facing death from severe malnutrition.