The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, this week reported that global crises have combined to raise levels of acute malnutrition in dozens of refugee sites surveyed, most of them in Africa. UNHCR’s 2021 Annual Public Health Global Review was released Friday.
UNHCR officials say they are concerned by their findings, which show a significant deterioration in the nutritional condition of refugees. Monitoring refugees' nutritional status resumed last year after stopping in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The officials say a third of the 93 sites surveyed in 12 African countries and in Bangladesh showed serious levels of global acute malnutrition, a measurement of a population’s nutritional status, and 14% of locations recorded life-threatening levels of malnutrition.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo tells VOA the rates of malnutrition are particularly troubling as they were recorded before the war in Ukraine sent food and commodity prices rising.
“This is a key concern because nutritional intake is really key to building healthy and resilient communities," she said. "The leading causes of illness for refugees remain upper respiratory tract infections and malaria and lower respiratory tract infections. And we had noncommunicable diseases also accounting for about 5% of consultations as well as mental health services.”
These concerns are playing out at a particularly difficult time marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and record levels of people being forcibly displaced by conflict, violence, and natural disasters.
Despite these problems, the UNHCR says gains were made in the inclusion of refugees into national health policies. A survey of 46 countries found 76% included refugees in their national health plans and practically all refugees were able to use primary health facilities.
In another promising result, by the end of last year, the report says 162 countries had included refugees and asylum-seekers in national COVID-19 vaccination plans.