The United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have called on West and Central African countries to stem the tide of acute malnutrition in children, as the impact of COVID-19 becomes intense. According to the UN agencies, up to 15.4 million children aged 5 and below in the regions are expected to suffer implications from acute malnutrition this year. This was revealed in an analysis put forward by UNICEF on the impact of food insecurity and COVID-19 on acute malnutrition in 19 countries of the regions.
The forecast represents a 20 percent increase from earlier estimates in January. UNICEF says one-third of the cases would be in its worst form if ample measures are not applied. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that 4.5 million children would suffer from acute malnutrition in 2020 in six countries of the regions. With the menace of insecurity which has led to displacement and limited access to social amenities, the figure has risen to about 5.4 million, abetted by the COVID-19 scourge. The UN agencies want both regions to increase access to food targeting vulnerable households and enhance the adoption of optimal feeding practices and innovating with local solutions.
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier said that malnutrition-aggravating factors and COVID-19 containment measures have led to disruptions to food systems. In her remarks, these factors had also affected the distribution in health and humanitarian supply chains, with a rippled effect felt across the economy of both regions. ”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 said.
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