Studies have shown that in the last five years malnutrition rates have deteriorated. It is predicted that the situation might worsen if action is the taken. This is further supported by evidence which shows that approximately 11 per cent of the population is chronically food insecure, while 21 per cent of children under five are chronically malnourished. According to the 2010 Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS), the proportion of underweight children has dropped from 20.3 per cent in 2005 to 17.4 per cent in 2010 while the prevalence of stunting increased slightly from 22.4 per cent in 2005 to 23.4 per cent in 2010 (MICS 2010). Similarly, the proportion of children who are wasted rose from 6.4 per cent in 2005 to 9.5 per cent in 2010. The prevalence of malnutrition was high among children under five years of age in some of the Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the country, not only at the height of the lean season, but also in post-harvest periods.
UNICEF supported the National Nutrition Agency to conduct a Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) survey to assess the nutritional status of children under five and women. The results of the survey indicate a Global Malnutrition rate of 9.2 per cent in 2012, while Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) is recorded at 1.2 per cent. The LGAs of Kuntaur, Janjanbureh and Basse each have a prevalence of above the 10 per cent threshold. The results of the survey highlighted the need for further strengthening of nutrition programmes.
Nutrition is a key component of the Government of The Gambia–UNICEF Country Programme of Cooperation. It supports the provision of nutritional supplements such as Vitamin A and therapeutic feeding and promotes good nutritional practices. As part of the country programme, and with funding from the European Union, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and National Nutrition Agency, have been able to save the lives of more children by treating existing cases of malnutrition.
The nutrition programmes aims to reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality through integrated programmes. It will include both preventive and curative services.
For preventive services, the package will focus on promotion of infant and young child feeding, prevention of micronutrient deficiencies, early identification, referral and management of acute malnutrition routine and supplemental immunization services for children under five and pregnant women, vitamin A supplementation and de-worming for children.
For curative services, nutrition supplies such as ready to use therapeutic foods, health drugs and other essential supplies for the management of SAM cases will be provided. Health workers will receive case management skills training to adequately handle cases when referred.
UNICEF also supports a community based nutrition programme where children are assessed and moderately malnourished children are supplemented to prevent severe malnutrition and ensure micronutrient supplementation such as iron for pregnant women, deworming interventions as well as promotion of salt iodization.
During the most recent national food and nutrition crisis in 2011, UNICEF responded swiftly to provide essential supplies to children to preserve and maintain good nutritional status.
The capacity building of health workers, and community groups to respond to nutrition needs of affected population will be strengthened through the provision of case management skills training, thus allowing them to adequately handle cases when referred. This intervention will ultimately contribute to the reduction of under-five morbidity and mortality.