26 March 2012
- A serious food and nutrition crisis is threatening the Sahel region of Africa, with over 10 million people facing food insecurity and over 1 million children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2012, exacerbated by and complicating further needs in health, water and sanitation, protection, as well as threatening rights to education.
- This is affecting eight countries across the Sahel region, including the entire countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and the northern regions of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal.
- The ongoing crisis in northern Mali is further exacerbating the situation for already vulnerable internally displaced populations in Mali and for refugees in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Niger. Increased pressure is also put on already scarce resources in host communities. The impact of last week’s coup d’état in Mali is a further source of instability to the region.
- While crucial to combat acute malnutrition across the Sahel in order to save lives, an effective response also needs to tackle the underlying and structural causes of malnutrition. Therefore, together with Governments and partners in all eight affected countries, UNICEF has elaborated preparedness and scaled up response plans including an integrated package of interventions in Nutrition, Health, WASH, Education, Protection and Communication for Behavioral and Social change. Funding for these activities remains a challenge.
- UNICEF has dispatched ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition among children under five to all eight affected countries to ensure coverage until the end of June 2012.
- Over 10 million people in the Sahel are facing food insecurity as a result of the food and nutrition crisis. Another 1 million children under five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Under the worst case scenario this year, almost 1.5 million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have declared a crisis and called for international assistance.
- The majority of child deaths in the Sahel are due to lack of effective systems to address the nutrition, health and water and sanitation needs of women and children, as well as insufficient access to basic social services. Under nutrition poses the greatest risk factor for mortality and morbidity among young children. It accounts for at least 35 per cent of all child deaths per year in the region. Acute malnutrition (under nutrition caused by immediate conditions), and especially severe acute malnutrition, is strongly predictive of mortality.
- The nutrition situation in the eight countries affected, except Cameroon, is deemed ‘serious’, with the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) equal to or exceeding 10 per cent; the GAM prevalence in Chad and several regions of Niger and Mauritania has surpassed the emergency threshold of 15 per cent.
- The nutritional status of children being a function of not only food quality and quantity but also of hygiene, sanitation, caring practices and health, a cohesive response is needed. Lack of access is of growing concern in Mali due to the conflict in the north and the recent coup d’êtat. The deteriorating security situation may also affect access in Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.
- UNICEF is rolling out an integrated package of interventions to address the crisis, focusing on addressing immediate needs and saving lives.
- UNICEF and partners will support the treatment of severe acute malnutrition for more than 1 million children, and will collaborate with World Food Programme to treat moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). In addition to combating acute malnutrition, the integrated approach also tackles the underlying and structural causes of malnutrition.
- Preparedness and scaled-up response plans elaborated by UNICEF together with Governments and partners in eight affected countries are inclusive of an integrated package of interventions in Nutrition, Health, WASH, Education, Protection and Communication for Behavioral and Social change. These interventions are delivered at the community and health facility level to provide high-quality care to help acutely malnourished children recover and to prevent future episodes of acute malnutrition.
- At the community level children will be screened for acute malnutrition and childhood illnesses. According to national protocols, severe cases of acute malnutrition will be referred to health facilities, where they will be enrolled into treatment programmes for acute malnutrition. Cases of severe acute malnutrition without medical complications will be treated as outpatients within their communities, with regular follow-up visits performed at health facilities.
- Increasing family knowledge and adoption of key nutritional practices, and encouraging health and treatment seeking behaviors in a timely manner are further key elements to complement delivery of life-saving services and supplies. A communication strategy will address the behavioral causes of malnutrition at family and community levels. A basket of essential practices (exclusive breastfeeding, improved complementary feeding, recognition of early signs of danger, psycho-social stimulation, hand-washing with soap/ash and diarrhoea treatment with ORS/zinc) will be promoted through a multi-channel communication strategy: the national health systems (health professionals, front-line health workers, and community resource persons); communication channels at all levels (media and interpersonal); and the community itself. In the same context, integrated WASH interventions will also be provided.
- At the facility level, children will have access to an integrated package for the treatment of acute malnutrition. Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications will be admitted as inpatients.
- Beyond immediate humanitarian requirements, a second stage of the response will aim at strengthening resilience of vulnerable populations and improving basic service delivery and social protection systems. The objective of this phase is thus to address underlying and structural causes of malnutrition.