Copy of Niger: More than 300,000 children saved from malnutrition in 2005, but work is far from over
A survey conducted by UNICEF, CDC Atlanta and the government shows that malnutrition among children remains unacceptably high in Niger. Long term structural programs are needed to address the issue
NIAMEY, NIGER, 21 December 2005 - A recent survey conducted by the government of Niger, the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta and UNICEF confirms that the children of Niger still face high levels of malnutrition.
Malnutrition rates range from 9% to 18%, and inadequate infant and young child feeding practices are likely causes. The survey was launched following the food crisis Niger dealt with earlier this year. This crisis exacerbated the country’s existing problem of structural malnutrition. Survey results will be used by the government, UNICEF and their partners to plan nutrition programmes for 2006.
Niger experienced a serious food crisis in 2005 following erratic rainfall, locust invasions, and decreased access to food and basic health services during the 2004 growing season. Over 300,000 malnourished children received treatment thanks to the government, UNICEF and more than 20 international and national nongovernmental organisations, with support from the international community. In this massive operation, 90% of treated children recovered. “We are proud of this unique accomplishment,” says Noel Marie Zagre, Head of Nutrition Section at UNICEF Niger. “But the results of the survey we conducted confirm that the work is far from over.”
The government and UNICEF ordered the survey in response to the 2005 crisis. Helen Keller International and the Red Cross provided expertise on nutrition and growth measuring. CIERPA, a local research firm with experience in Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, was hired to conduct the survey within country.
The Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta collected data on health issues and child malnutrition levels in September and October 2005. During a 30-day period, a team of 80 members and five supervisors surveyed Niger’s eight regions: Agadez, Diffa, Dosso, Maradi, Niamey, Tahoua, Tillabery and Zinder. A total of 5,324 children under five were weighed and measured, including children in treatment at therapeutic feeding centres. The sampling was based on the 2001 Niger census. A two-stage cluster survey method was used to achieve a very high level of accuracy.
The survey confirms that 15.3% of 6- to 59-month-old children have acute malnutrition, whether severe or moderate. Rates range from 8.9% in Niamey, the capital, to 17.9% in Tahoua, a region in central Niger. With the exception of the capital, malnutrition rates in all of Niger’s regions are above 10%. According to experts, this level qualifies as a nutrition crisis. In addition to Tahoua, Niger’s southern regions of Diffa, Maradi and Zinder all record rates above 15%.
For many, and especially for the experts dealing with malnutrition in the region, the results are not surprising. They document the reality observed in the field and confirm that malnutrition is a structural problem in Niger. The 2005 food crisis only exacerbated the nutrition crisis that has existed in the country for years.
The survey also helped identify some of the underlying causes of malnutrition in Niger. Cultural factors and social behaviours, such as inadequate infant and young child feeding practices, have a major impact on structural malnutrition. Consequently, strategies must include in-depth studies on this issue and programmes for behaviour change to effectively fight malnutrition.
“Structural reduction of Niger’s high malnutrition rates will come only as these roots are addressed long term. We can settle for nothing less,” says Karim Adjibade, the UNICEF Representative in Niger.
An action plan based on the survey results is in the process of finalisation. It aims to decrease the high levels of malnutrition in children through four major interventions:
- Continue to back Government and NGO efforts in the management of severe and moderate malnutrition through therapeutic feeding centres and within the communities.
- Prevent malnutrition through a variety of activities including education for behaviour change, improved feeding practices for infants and young children, systematic de-worming, micronutrient supplementation, and anaemia reduction through malaria prevention using insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
- Establish a nutrition surveillance system.
- Support all action that helps provide free access to basic health care for children under five.
- Support the Government to design and implement a national nutrition policy based on mid and long term perspectives.
Activities are undertaken jointly with the government of Niger, UN partners (including the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization) and more than 20 national and international NGOs operating in the field.
For more information about UNICEF Niger’s emergency response, please contact:
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