|At a nutritional centre in the region of Maradi, Niger, a child eats ready-to-use therapeutic food that is essential to gain weight and recuperate from acute malnutrition.|
By Amy Bennett
New York, USA, 5 April 2007 – In Niger, one out of five children dies before the age of five, and more than half of those deaths can be attributed to malnutrition.
This year, however, a new survey shows that malnutrition rates among children in Niger have improved significantly over the last year. But with the good news comes caution, as the gains could be lost without consistent funding and support for the strategy of managing and preventing malnutrition.
The national nutritional survey revealed that acute malnutrition has fallen from 15.3 per cent in November 2005 to 10.3 per cent in November 2006. Those results highlight the impact of the large scale ongoing relief effort coordinated by UNICEF in response to the nutrition crisis of 2005.
“The results show that malnutrition can be controlled and prevented with high-impact interventions,” says Akhil Iyer, UNICEF Representative in Niger. “The survey brought to light the urgent need for consistent funding and support for a bold strategy for the long term control of malnutrition in children.”
UNICEF and its partners treated 382,400 malnourished children in 2006. They expect to treat another 300,000 in 2007.
|© UNICEF Niger/2006/Bausson|
|At a screening site in the region of Tillabéri, Niger, a nurse shows a chart that shows the weight and height of each child to determine if he or she suffers from acute malnutrition.|
A two-pronged approach: Treatment and prevention
A series of different findings shows a need for continued and bold action. Children under three years old are disproportionately affected by acute malnutrition and the practice of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months – proven to be the best way to reduce under-five child mortality - remains at 2.2 per cent, among the lowest in the world.
Based on the results of the survey, UNICEF is scaling up the delivery of two essential types of interventions for prevention and care of malnutrition. The first is to treat moderate and severe acute malnutrition in children in nutritional rehabilitation centres, and the second is to prevent malnutrition and curb chronic malnutrition through intervention.
UNICEF also seeks to prioritize nutrition in development policies while working simultaneously across the sectors of health, education, family planning, water and sanitation, all inextricably linked to child survival.
“In Niger, as is the case across the Sahel region, progress in nutrition in children is instrumental to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals,” says Iyer.