Geneva, 31 January 2006 - The humanitarian situation in Malawi remains very serious, due to a deadly combination of chronic poverty, bad weather conditions, bad harvest, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and an outbreak of cholera.
About 40 percent of the population -- total of 4,916,000 people -- are in need of food assistance until end of March 2006 Of these, an estimated one million are children under the age of five and pregnant women. 48 % of children under five years of age in Malawi are stunted; 5% are wasted or severely malnourished; 22 % are underweight or malnourished.
The admissions of severely malnourished children to 84 UNICEF's supported Nutrition Rehabilitation Units (NRUs) for December were 1,862 in total. This represents a 54 percent increase compared to same time last year (1,206 admissions) nationwide.
The December rate of moderate and severe acute malnutrition for children under five years old stood at 9.6 percent, compared to 3.6 percent same time last year according to the latest Nutrition Surveillance Report. Of the three regions, the southern and the central regions have the worst nutrition situation based on wasting, which is at 9.2 percent in the southern region and 8.3 percent in the central region.
The humanitarian situation is particularly serious for the rural population. More than 65 per cent of Malawi's population lives below the poverty line.
In addition to the food crisis, a total of 178 suspected cholera cases were reported for the period 16 - 22 January 2006. These include Blantyre (73), Mangochi (25), Balaka (24) and Ntcheu (23). Four people have died as a result during the reporting period.
Since beginning of October 2005, the total number of suspected cases reported amounts to 828 of which 12 people have died representing a fatality rate of 2.2%. In comparison, a total of 216 suspected cases were reported same time last year during the 2004/05 cholera season.
Presently, the country continues to experience frequent occurrence of flood due to heavy rainfall which may trigger small stream and urban flood problems, as well as localised landslides in mountainous areas.
The country has an extremely high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which affects an estimated 16,4 per cent of people aged 15 to 49 and accounts for some 70 per cent of hospital deaths. Some 400,000 children under 15 have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, many of them now cared for by relatives who are already under economic hardships.
To date UNICEF has received US$ 11,582,403 in contributions or pledges against the US$13,000,000 Appeal. A total of US$ 1,417,597 is now required to respond to the on going deteriorating situation of children.
UNICEF is treating up to 3,500 children with acute severe malnutrition per month through the provision (and pre-positioning) of adequate specialized nutrition supplies, drugs, training and technical assistance at the policy and operational levels. UNICEF provides supplementary feeding programme in collaboration with the World Food programme which reaches now some 130,000 children under five, pregnant and lactating women with moderate malnutrition.
UNICEF also provides essential drugs and supplies in order to reduce cholera and measles outbreaks. Finally, UNICEF is supporting school feeding in 620 schools benefiting some 500,000 primary school children.
For further information, please contact:
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva, 41 22 909 5716, firstname.lastname@example.org