Malnutrition in Mali

Malnutrition is one the biggest global health issues that many developing countries face today. The health problem is prevalent in the country of Mali and especially affects children. According to the UN World Food Program (WFP), about 1.7 million Malians are at risk of extreme hunger due to factors such as high food prices, poor terms of trade for animals, drought, and conflict-driven insecurities. SMART, which is a government nutrition survey, reported 150,000 cases of malnourished children. Out of all these children, only 30,000 were cared for by the government and aid agencies. Approximately 12,000 children facing malaria and malnutrition were hospitalized in a southeastern region of Mali in 2011. A local health center in the area also dealt with 85,000 consultation cases. According to Johanne Sekkenes, head of NGO Medecins sans Frontieres in capital Bamako, “There is no pediatric hospital anywhere in the Sahel that’s big enough to treat these kinds of numbers.” Some northern territories of Mali are under control of Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist groups, and therefore it is harder to find out the extent of malnutrition by surveys. The only children screened are the ones who come to the health centers. Malnutrition rates are lower in the northern region of Kidal than the southern areas due to children eating a high-protein diet. On the other hand, natural and conflict related causes, have limited access to pasture, cereal prices are high, and their animals are dying or too weak to sell. All of these factors can greatly affect the population’s health. Due to the fact that it is more complicated to work in the north, health capacity and humanitarian response have both decreased. NGO Action against Hunger (ACF) involved in the southern areas, say that due to insecurity in the area, nutritional screening might not be possible in the north and it is difficult to know the exact ratings of the health issues. The complicated work conditions have also caused a loss in aid and training of new volunteers is required to provide the help. UNICEF (The UN Children’s Fund) however, was able to release surveys taken from the south that proved the severity of malnutrition. The government’s support in need for malnutrition is not fully there. In order for agencies to be the most successful, there is a need for a connection between government and action so this global health issue can go in the right direction and start to get resolved. Medical anthropologists such as Katherine Dettwyler, studied nutritional deficiencies in Mali such Vitamin A, and helped in development programs that introduced carrots to people’s diets and children. Individuals like Katherine, are the people who will make a difference in the nourishment of children and a population. The government aide and support is not always present, and it is the medical anthropologists and agencies of different sorts that will make a difference on such an important issue the world’s countries face.



Sikkink, Lynn. “Medical Anthropology in Applied Perspective.”  Western State College, Wadsworth Cengage Learning (2009).


“MALI: Malnutrition- Worrying in north, rising in south.” IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis (2011).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tyler Kavanagh says:

    After reading your post (which was very well written by the way) it’s very apparent that Malnutrition in Mali is a big problem, and as you stated is a big problem all around the world in many under developed countries. The specific anthropologist that you stated, Katherine Dettwyler, did probably what every anthropologist would do if they were studying such a problem. She used a biological and ecological approach in that she studied what factors were causing or playing into the malnutrition of these people, and in particular the factor amount of vitamin A. Many studies have been done in the past dealing with vitamin A deficiency amongst various third world countries, but as any anthropologist would say each culture may react very different from the next so a direct study is necessary no matter what population is being observed. For example in some populations it might be easiest and cheapest to deliver vitamin A supplements to the under developed country instead of actually importing vitamin A rich foods, but the supplements might not be enough to bring the population out of its malnutrition due to the fact that supplements may not be absorbed as well as the vitamin rich foods would be. With that being said a study using the supplements and persons suffering from malnutrition would be beneficial in understanding the deficiency before deciding on how to take action as far as treatment goes.

  2. Justin Crane says:

    It amazes me that 1.7 million people from one area can be at such a high risk of hunger while their own country and government do so little to help ease the situation. The actions of Katherine Dettwyler seem to be a solid step in the right direction for helping the people of Mali. I believe that if the government of Mali could pull itself together and make strides similar to Katherine’s, this situation could be remedied. But as you mentioned, political tensions are playing a monumental role in prolonging the hunger. I should not have been surprised to hear that Al-Qaeda is part of this middle-eastern problem. It always seems that politics and religion are the root of global health problems, which seems so incredibly counterintuitive. I think looking at this situation from an anthropological viewpoint could be beneficial in finding a solution. Through this lens people are able to look at the situation from all angles, whereas most people probably look at this situation through a political scope. If we can set aside the political issues and realize that people are dying simple because they are starving, I think the global community could solve this crisis. For example, if the northern and southern regions could look beyond their wants and see the needs of their people, they could provide more quality and a higher quantity of screening centers. This could lead to more aid from groups like UNICEF and from people like Katherine Dettwlyer.

Leave a Reply