UNICEF commits to 300,000 children at risk of malnutrition in Malawi

With 6.5 million people – a third of the population – in Malawi facing acute food shortage, UNICEF has committed to continue vital nutrition support for the country’s 300,000 children who are at risk of malnutrition in the current emergency.

Unicef Roisin de Burca
Unicef  deputy rep in Malawi : Roisin de Burca

The UN agency has just completed a mass screening of under five children, and reached 1.3 million childrenacross 25 districts in the country.

UNICEF started the campaign in early November, reaching 1.3 million of the targeted 1.8 million children.

Statistics show that cases of children admitted with either severe or moderate acute malnutrition in the country’s health centres have increased from 43,891 to71,019 representing a 62 percent jump in admissions over 5 months, compared to same period last year.

“UNICEF predicted this situation last year, and that’s why we have been carrying out the mass screening in order to go out and find children in the far flung villages and communities, to encourage those in need to seek services,” said Roisin De Burca, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Malawi.

“The increased case load is no surprise and we are working with the government to ensure all facilities have the necessary therapeutic foods, milk and treatment to ensure all those children can recover. What is worrying us now, is how we maintain this level of assistance in the increasingly precarious months ahead. ”

The unfolding nutrition crisis in Malawi increases the likelihood of child rights violations, as many – especially the poor and vulnerable – are forced to join their families in search for food, thereby exposing them to child labour, exploitation and risk of trafficking.

“We are monitoring the situation closely as we do not foresee an end to this crisis any time soon. As time goes on we know the challenges for children are not only malnutrition, but school drop-out and risks such as hazardous labour and early marriage. Our response to this emergency is looking at all these risks to children, and trying to find ways to ensure they stay healthy and stay in school,” said De Burca.

Currently, UNICEF in collaboration with the Ministry of Health has managed to procure and distribute 534 tonnes of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for all health centres in the country with support from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), SWISS National Committee for UNICEF and the Government of Japan. So far, about 22,550 children have been treated for severe acute malnutrition.

In light of the current situation, UNICEF will continue to extend additional support to the Ministry of Health for quality management of acute malnutrition and service delivery. The UN children’s agency is calling for additional funds of US$18,202, 000million for its current emergencies in Malawi.

Malawi adopted the community management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) approach in 2002 as the most effective way of treating malnutrition in young children. The CMAM approach focuses on prevention at community level through raising awareness on malnutrition, screening all children and treating identified malnutrition cases using therapeutic milk and foods.

In Malawi, severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in the under-five malnutrition population is around 4 percent, although there are discrepancies across the country, with the flood affected districts in the south currently showing much higher rates.  Without treatment, severe acute malnutrition can be fatal for young children.

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