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WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA feature story for Central African Republic

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2009/Murakatete

Marina, 16, breastfeeds her infant son, who is severely malnourished, as they await assistance at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic nutrition centre in Bossangoa. A joint Government-UNICEF survey indicates that malnutrition is on the rise in the conflict-affected country.

PARTNERS UNITE TO TREAT MALNUTRITION IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic, September 2009 - “I feel so helpless. I see my children crying but there is nothing I can do. I wish I could help them but there is nothing to eat. I get so frustrated I cry with them until we can’t cry anymore,” says Marina as she stands outside the therapeutic nutrition centre in Bossangoa with her 10 month old baby waiting their turn.

Marina Feïganazoui, 16, has already been staying at the centre for two and a half weeks now to treat her severely acutely malnourished son. When the baby fell ill, she had initially felt helpless and was at loss as she did not know what to do. But she heard from her neighbours that there was a UNICEF-funded centre which is run in partnership with NGOs in a nearby village. She walked all the way with her baby, praying that she would be given assistance.

Fortunately, she brought her baby to the nutrition centre in time for treatment.  Although not yet fully recovered, the baby has regained strength through intensive care and nutrition treatment. He was given therapeutic milk and essential micronutrient food products (Plumpy nut, F-75 and F-100), items procured by UNICEF and stocked at the nutrition centres.

The therapeutic nutrition centre in Bossangoa is one of five therapeutic feeding units in the northern part of the country, along with 26 outpatient therapeutic programmes.  Together these nutritional feeding sites treat an average of 1,200 children with severe acute malnutrition every month. The centres operate with UNICEF assistance in conjunction with its partners.

In addition, with the Ministry of Health and international and national NGOs, UNICEF supports training of health staff and community health workers to provide adequate case management of acute malnutrition and assessments to ensure that children suffering from malnutrition are identified and treated in a timely manner.

The most recent data available from a joint survey by the Government of the Central African Republic and UNICEF reveal that the rate of severe acute malnutrition and moderate acute malnutrition among children under five is on the rise. At the same time, access to sufficient health care remains limited, with a general shortage of medicine and lack of equipment.  Even in cases where health services are available, the medical cost and the transportation are often unaffordable for the majority of the country’s population.

UNICEF in the Central African Republic works in conflict-affected areas in the north of the country as well as in the south, where food insecurity is on the rise in tandem with an increase in the price of essential commodities.  In addition to supporting ongoing emergency nutrition response, UNICEF will also advocate for the Ministry of Health to allocate an appropriate budget and capacity for the efficient and effective running of these nutrition facilities at the provincial and district levels.