Government and partners call for increased mobilization to curb child malnutrition levels in Niger
NIAMEY, Niger, – The harvest and pastoral season in late 2010 has not yielded positive nutritional results for children in Niger, as expected, with more than 15 children in 100 still suffering from acute malnutrition as shown by the National Nutrition Survey, conducted in June 2011 and released by mid-July by the National Institute of Statistics.
The government of Niger and its partners called on the international community to intensify its mobilization efforts to curb alarming levels of child malnutrition and its structural and underlying causes.
The prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) among children under five years old in Niger is back to the same levels experienced in June 2009 that is at 12.3 percent, registering a decrease of more than three points (16.7%) from the last survey conducted in November 2010. The nutritional status nevertheless remains above the emergency threshold of 10 per cent for seven of the country’s eight regions.
Children aged six to 23 months account for a large share of the nutritional burden with one in five children affected by global acute malnutrition (GAM) and 4.2 percent of them by severe acute malnutrition (SAM), the most severe form of malnutrition. These figures have dropped comparing to June 2010 but remain well above that prevailed in June 2009 before a serious food and nutrition crisis that struck the whole nation in 2010.
Yet, severe acute malnutrition, which dramatically increases the risk of death in children under-five years, has significantly decreased and is standing at 1.9 percent against 3.2 percent in November 2010. Such lower rates than those of 2009 which showcase the extent and quality of interventions carried out by government and partners to the benefit of communities and care centres.
The survey reveals unacceptably high rates of chronic malnutrition for all age groups which follow an upward trend having registered an increase by five points from 48 percent in June 2010 to 51 percent in June 2011. The prevalence of this form of malnutrition, harmful to the psychological development of children, illustrates the cumulative effects of recurrent episodes of malnutrition in children and reveals the urgency to act upstream to address the disease by offering children a healthy diet soon after birth.
Exclusive breastfeeding within the hour of the child’s birth and up to six months is free, cheap and effective in giving a good start in life to children. Children who are adequately nourished after six months prevent the child from losing all the benefits gained from breastfeeding and diminish risks of malnutrition. Only 27 percent of Niger’s mothers exclusively breastfeed their children up to six months according to the latest child survival survey conducted in 2010.
“Malnutrition has enormous consequences: morbidity and mortality increase, poor educational achievements and lower productivity. The promotion of these practices and their daily use are fundamental to save thousands of children,” explains Dr. Maimouna Guéro, nutrition director at the Ministry of Public Health in Niger.
Nutrition stakeholders in Niger estimate that 200 thousand children aged between six to 59 months old will be cared for in 2011 as a result of SAM; while 500 thousand children suffering from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and 140 thousand pregnant and breastfeeding women will receive appropriate care. Between 1st January and 26 June 2011 a total of 122,218 children with SAM and 152,317 children with MAM were cared for in public health structures supported by government partners. The tendency reflects the good utilization of the national feeding, referral and care system for children put in place.
While the scaling up health centres networks and that of hospitals has stabilized the nutritional status of children, it is far from enough: “Each week, thousands of sick children flood the existing health centres available throughout the country which is proof that underlying causes of malnutrition in Niger should be seriously dealt with,” concluded Dr Guéro.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
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