This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
GENEVA/ HONG KONG, 27 October 2017 – We are working to get a clear understanding on the extent of acute malnutrition among Rohingya child refugees and a nutrition survey is underway which will give us this data in November. What we already know is that the combination of malnutrition, sanitary conditions, and disease in the refugee settlements, is potentially catastrophic for children.
On the newest arrivals: During the recent mass influx, when thousands of refugees were stuck at the border on the 16th, 17th, and 18th of October, UNICEF screened 340 children. This was a rough and rapid exercise to identify children who needed immediate, life-saving treatment. Of the 340 children screened at the border, 33 were found to be severely acutely malnourished (SAM). Screening conducted on sick children who were brought to a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic found 14 SAM cases among 103 children. This is an extremely small number of children, so these numbers are not representative. They do however tell us that some children are close to death by the time they make it across the border.
Among refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25, UNICEF and partners had screened 59,604 children as of 25 October, with 1,970 identified as SAM, and 6,971 as moderately acutely malnourished. These numbers roughly correspond to the pre-crisis malnutrition rates – which were already above the emergency threshold – 21.2 per cent global acute malnutrition and 3.6 per cent severe acute malnutrition, according to a survey conducted in May 2017 in makeshift settlements.
In Rakhine State, malnutrition rates in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, where the vast majority of refugees come from, were also already above emergency thresholds – global acute malnutrition rates of 19 per cent in Maungdaw and 15.1 per cent in Buthidaung, SAM rates of 3.9 per cent in Maungdaw and 2 per cent in Buthidaung. Since August 25, we have had to stop treating 4,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in northern Rakhine because we have had no access.
Measles cases (see below for data) have been reported both among the settled population and new arrivals. And despite a cholera vaccination campaign that exceeded its target of 650,000, the risk of diarrheal disease and dysentery remains exceptionally high.
UNICEF, together with partners, is focusing on establishing nutrition treatment centres – 15 so far including one mobile post, with 6 more being set up now in Kutupalong and the new extension, where most of the new arrivals are heading. Almost 2,000 children with severe acute malnutrition are being treated right now. We have procured ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severe acute malnutrition, with more supplies coming. We are working with health partners to identify and treat diarrhea and pneumonia – which worsen malnutrition – and to vaccinate children, and we are working to support mothers so that they can properly feed their infants and young children. Crucially, we continue our work to make safe water and sanitation accessible for more refugees.
Funding remains a constraint – our HK$592.8 million appeal is still only 18 per cent met.