By Kuni Tyessi
The United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have warned that up to 15.4 million cases of acute malnutrition in children less than five years are expected in 2020 in West and Central Africa.
They said one third of them is from its most severe form, if adequate measures are not put in place now.
In a statement issued by UNICEF, the global body said this represents a 20 per cent increase from earlier estimates in January 2020, according to an analysis of the combined impact of food insecurity and COVID-19 on acute malnutrition in 19 countries of the regions.
Conflict and armed violence have led to massive population displacements and drastically limited access to basic social services, causing child malnutrition to increase to unprecedented levels.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 4.5 million cases were anticipated to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2020 in six countries of the regions. Today, with growing insecurity and COVID-19, that number has jumped to almost 5.4 million.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said: “Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are at higher risk of COVID-19-related complications. Good nutrition for children, starting from their early days, protects them against illnesses and infections and supports their recovery when they become ill.
“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.
“Several factors threaten the nutritional status of children under five in West and Central Africa.
“These include 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 diarrhea; fragile health systems, and poor access to clean water and sanitation, as well as chronic poverty.”
She stressed that these malnutrition-aggravating factors and COVID-19 pandemic containment measures have led to disruptions in food production and distribution in health and humanitarian supply chains, as well as a slow-down of economic activities.
“The pandemic has had indirect negative impacts on food systems, households’ income and food security, as well as the provision of treatment against malnutrition,” Poirier said.