Poverty & Healthcare
A malnourished people
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world; in 2010, it came 167 out of 169 countries listed in the United Nations Humanitarian Development Index.
Two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line, surviving on less than 1 dollar per day and hunger is a daily issue for many families. Malnutrition is widespread and around half the country's children are stunted – see Malnutrition.
High child mortality
One in six children will not reach their fifth birthday. Weakened by malnutrition, many succumb to illnesses such as malaria – see Diseases.
The situation is even worse in some years because severe droughts affect livestock and harvests – see Climate & Agriculture. In drought periods, half the population can be in need of food.
During the 2010 drought, the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme found that 17% of children were acutely malnourished. (Emergencies are normally declared when a 15% threshold is reached.)
The government has made a commitment to tackle malnutrition and also works with the UN’s ‘Scaling up Nutrition’ programme. During times of severe crises, agencies such as the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) boost the services of health centres and help to provide emergency treatment to the malnourished.
Reliance on local and traditional medicine
Dearth of doctors
According to the the World Health Organization (WHO), there were fewer than 300 doctors working in Niger during 2000-2010 (which represents 0.2 doctors for every 10,000 people).
Medical facilities are limited in Niger, even in the capital. State-run hospitals and clinics often lack equipment and essential drugs. There is also a severe shortage of trained medical professionals.
Many people turn to local healers when they fall ill. These healers use traditional herbal medicines and rituals or they may follow Koranic/Islamic methods.
The government has exempted mothers and children under five from health user fees. However, culturally, women are still hesitant to visit hospitals and clinics, especially if the nearest facility is far away. This means most women in Niger do not have a skilled medical attendant (either a doctor or midwife) during pregnancy and childbirth.
High risk of disease
Risks of childbirth
A woman in Niger has a 1 in 16 chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes during her lifetime (compared with 1 in 11,000 for a woman in Sweden).
Due to poor sanitation, water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera are common, particularly during the rainy season.
But as in many African countries, malaria presents the highest risk to health. Malaria is the biggest killer of the young. According to the World Health Organization, a fifth of deaths (21%) among children under five are caused by malaria (2008).
HIV/AIDS affects around 53,000 people or 0.8% of the adult population (UNAIDS 2009). An estimated 57,000 children have lost one or both parents to the disease.