Tuesday October 15, 2019

About 2M Children in Afghanistan Suffer Acute Malnutrition: UNICEF

But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said

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FILE - A boy walks inside what is left of a home in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, March, 3, 2019. The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for money to treat Afghanistan's malnourished children. VOA

About two million children in Afghanistan are acutely malnourished. Of those, 600,000 face severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children, said Christophe Boulierac, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund.

“Any child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is a crisis and needs to be treated to survive,” he said. “We cannot tell you how many children will die, but we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.”

Afghanistan, alongside Yemen and South Sudan, is among the countries with the highest numbers of children under age five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Severe drought in 2018 has worsened the situation.

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But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said. Pixabay

Recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan find 22 out of 34 provinces are above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. Last year, UNICEF provided life-saving assistance to nearly half of the country’s most nutritionally deprived children. It is aiming to reach 60 percent, or 375,000, of those children this year. But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said.

“We are the sole provider of this treatment against severe acutely malnourished children,” he told VOA. “We need urgent funding in three weeks, otherwise, we will not send the necessary ready-to-use therapeutic food treatment to the 1,300 health facilities that are waiting for that.”

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This year, UNICEF has provided treatment to more than 73,000 severely malnourished children. Boulierac said plans are in place to immediately scale up the operation to reach more children as soon as more money is available.

He also warned that the nutritional status of Afghanistan’s children is likely to worsen without more secure funding in the pipeline. (VOA)

Next Story

Mia Farrow Promoting IRC’s Approach to Treating Severe and Moderate Acute Malnutrition

"Once you see a child dying of hunger in a world where it isn't necessary, in a world of abundance ... you have frustration," she said

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Mia Farrow, IRC, Malnutrition
FILE - Three-year-old Fatime Mahamat, suffering from severe malnutrition, cries as she rests in a nutritional health clinic run with the support of UNICEF, in Mao, Chad, Nov. 4, 2012. VOA

Groups of women had traveled for days to find care for their starving children in Chad, blankly staring in exhaustion and with little hope. But other women smiled, relieved to see their children “fattened” by a new and simplified initiative for hunger. Mia Farrow.

In an interview with The Associated Press, actress Mia Farrow recounted the scene during her visit to the Central African nation’s Mangalme area as an envoy for the International Rescue Committee.

“Once you see a child dying of hunger in a world where it isn’t necessary, in a world of abundance … you have frustration,” she said. “When I saw this simple solution … I said yes, there is an answer.”

She is promoting the IRC’s approach to treating severe and moderate acute malnutrition, one that contrasts with the widespread method using two different products administered by two different agencies.

Mia Farrow, IRC, Malnutrition
FILE – Human rights activist Mia Farrow talks with staff from the International Rescue Committee while visiting an internally displaced persons camp in Juba, South Sudan, April 2, 2019. VOA

UNICEF provides a fortified peanut butter treatment to children with severe acute malnutrition, while the World Food Program, another United Nations agency, provides a blended flours treatment to children with moderate acute malnutrition. A child with moderate acute malnutrition could arrive at a facility that only serves severe cases and not receive treatment.

Efficiency, cost

In Chad, about 350,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition. That number could grow as the landlocked Sahel nation faces a growing extremist threat in its Lake Chad region and refugees continue to arrive from neighboring countries. Rapid desertification exacerbates the hunger and poverty.

Chad ranks 186th of 189 countries in the 2018 Human Development Index and has one of the world’s highest levels of hunger, according to the World Food Program. More than 66% of the population of 15.5 million lives in severe poverty.

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The IRC hopes to make treating malnutrition more efficient and less costly. CEO David Miliband has said the new approach could save millions of lives over the next decade since only 20% of some 50 million acutely malnourished children worldwide have access to treatment.

The IRC hopes its pilot programs in Chad and Mali can help inform World Health Organization guidelines on treating malnutrition and allow health workers to deliver the treatments within communities and not just at clinics.

“We don’t have to watch children die,” Farrow said.

‘Promising’ approach

Mia Farrow, IRC, Malnutrition
In an interview with The Associated Press, actress Mia Farrow recounted the scene during her visit to the Central African nation’s Mangalme area as an envoy. Pixabay

World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel said the agency “fully supports testing and building the evidence for simplified approaches such as the one being put forward by IRC. The approach shows promise, and we’re enthusiastic about it as one of the strategies that may help improve treatment of acute malnutrition.”

Malnutrition is a major cause of maternal and child illness and death in Chad, he said. He acknowledged that in remote settings some women and children may walk for hours or days to a clinic only to find treatment for one type of malnutrition available — and could be turned away if they don’t fit the criteria.

“Simplified protocols could provide a promising solution to these issues,” he said. For them to be effective, “we need to ensure that these services are also available in communities, not just in health clinics.”

He noted that some evidence gaps remain on the effectiveness of the approach but said U.N. agencies are working with the IRC to generate needed data.

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The IRC pilot in Chad is being carried out in partnership with Chad’s health ministry, WFP and UNICEF. Nearly 2,000 malnourished children already have been admitted. (VOA)