15.4 million African children have acute malnutrition, UN agencies warns

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The United Nations has forecasted that West and Central Africa will have 15.4 million cases of acute malnutrition in children under five years old in 2020 if adequate measures are not put in place now.

The warning was issued by two of the organisation’s bodies, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in a press release made available on Friday.

According to the organisations, the figure represents a 20 per cent increase from earlier estimates in January 2020, from an analysis of the combined impact of food insecurity and COVID-19 on acute malnutrition in 19 countries of the region.

 “Conflict and armed violence have led to massive population displacements and drastically limited access to basic social services, leading child malnutrition to increase to unprecedented levels. The coronavirus disease is exacerbating fragile contexts in West and Central Africa, such as in the Sahel region across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, which were already stricken with food insecurity and malnutrition. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 4.5 million cases were anticipated to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2020, in these 6 countries.

“Today, with growing insecurity and COVID-19, that number has jumped to almost 5.4 million.

“Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are at higher risk of COVID-19-related complications. Whereas, good nutrition for children, starting from their early days, protects them against illnesses and infections, and supports their recovery when they become ill,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Ensuring the continuity of preventive and lifesaving health and nutrition services, building shock-responsive social protection systems, protecting livelihoods and supporting families’ access to water, hygiene and healthy food are critical for child survival and long-term development.”

The organisations said, due to a number of factors – household food insecurity, poor maternal nutrition and infant feeding practices, conflicts and armed violence, population displacement, high levels of childhood illnesses and water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, fragile health systems, poor access to clean water and sanitation, chronic poverty and food production and distribution, in health and humanitarian supply chains, as well as a slow-down of economic activities, it has become doubly difficult for populations to maintain healthy diets, optimal infant and young child feeding practices, and hinders their access to essential nutrition services.

“Thousands of families will be unable to provide their children with the nutritious food needed for their proper growth and development,” said WFP Regional Director for West and Central Africa Chris Nikoi. “We must work together to improve access to nutritious foods and ensure that there are strong preventive actions that protect children from falling into the vicious trap of malnutrition and sickness.”

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