In Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), under-nutrition is a major underlying cause of the persistently high child mortality, contributing to more than a third of all deaths among children under five years of age.
9.3 million children under five, or 15 percent of all children that age group are underweight, while 24 million, or 39 percent suffer from stunted growth.
Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is the most advanced stage of malnutrition and the most threatening one to a child’s life. Studies have shown that mortality among children with severe acute malnutrition is five to 20 times higher than for well-nourished children.
Without adequate treatment, between 30 to 50 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition will die.
Throughout ESA, children living in rural or from the poorest households are more susceptible to malnutrition. In Eritrea, for example, the prevalence of malnutrition for children under five years is 40 percent in rural areas, and 23 percent in urban areas; while in Somalia the figure is 42 percent for children from the poorest 20 percent of the population, and 14 percent for the richest 20 percent.
According to a recent study published by the Lancet, exclusive breastfeeding is one of the single most effective interventions to combat child mortality. There is also evidence to suggest that early breastfeeding within the first hour of life can significantly reduce neonatal mortality.
Appropriate complementary feeding (timely introduction, safe and adequate amounts) with continued breastfeeding for up to two years is critical for children’s optimal growth and development.
Three countries in the region – South Africa, Somalia, and Angola - have breastfeeding rates of less than 20 percent.
Vitamin A supplementation can help strengthen children’s immune system and reduce child mortality by 23 percent.
At the regional level, vitamin A supplementation (VAS) coverage is 80 percent.
Apart from brain damage, iodine deficiency can cause learning disabilities and stunting, and significantly increases the risk for pregnant women of stillbirth and miscarriage. Salt iodization has proven to be most effective in reducing the risk of iodine deficiency.
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