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 under five years old were expected in 2020 in West and Central Africa – one third of them from its most severe form – if adequate measures are not put in place now.
In a statement issued by UNICEF yesterday, the global body stated that 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 region. 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.
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 six countries. 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. “Whereas, 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 diarrhoea, fragile health systems, and poor access to clean water and sanitation, and chronic poverty.” While stressing that these malnutrition aggravating factors, 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, and the provision of treatment against malnutrition.
“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.” WFP and UNICEF are working with governments and partners to ensure the continuation of essential services. Together, they deliver an integrated package of care focused on the prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition and empower communities for the provision of basic services.