The United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) said Tuesday it is carrying out a mass screening for malnutrition in children under five across the country amid reports of increasing hunger.
Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF country representative, said in a statement made available to Nyasa Times that the mass screening – in 25 districts, 90 per cent of the country – comes after a recent Vulnerability Assessment, which revealed 2.8 million people in Malawi are in need of urgent food aid.
Malawi has been struggling to cope with prolonged drought, El Nino weather patterns, recovery from floods, a stagnant economy and the first maize deficit in a decade, UNICEF said.
“Although official figures are saying that malnutrition cases are not increasing, we know from past experience that this may not be the whole story,” Mdoe said in the statement.
“Hungry, desperate families may not have the means or resources to take sick children to be assessed. This mass screening will bring the services to them to ensure no child is left out.”
“We want to make sure that every child suffering from malnutrition gets access to life-saving treatment,” said the UNICEF Country Representative.
Currently, the malnutrition screening and treatment programme in Malawi is available in over 90% of districts but only 50 percent of the expected number of children are being seen and treated.
The mass screening for malnourished children is supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and is one of several emergency response activities in the country, including food ration distribution supported by the World Food Programme.
UNICEF said despite food shortages the initial malnutrition figures showed a stable trend, except for the flood-hit districts of Chikwawa, Phalombe and Nsanje, where cases of malnutrition rose in the past three months.
But malnutrition is likely to increase “substantially” as the lean season reaches its peak in February and March, it said.
“Even if the rains are sufficient this growing season, families will still have to wait until March or April before the first crops are harvested,” Mdoe said. “That is a further four months of food insecurity, when young children are at increased risk of disease or even death.”
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.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :