“The international community must mobilize both politically and financially, to fight against poverty and child malnutrition in the region of the Sahel,” Guluma said.
Between 1-5 August, the UNICEF Regional Director visited Burkina Faso and Niger. Guluma observed firsthand how precarious the nutritional status of children is in the Sahel region. She has also been able to appreciate the progress made in Niger thanks to the engagement of the Government and the mobilization of the international community.In 2005, a severe nutritional crisis hit the Sahel region. In 2006, the situation for all the countries in the region remains alarming. Malnutrition in children under five years old is above critical levels. Acute malnutrition ranges from 10 per cent in Mali, 11 per cent in Chad, 12 per cent in Mauritania, 14 per cent in Niger and 19 per cent in Burkina Faso.
Malnutrition, particularly in children, is a plague preventing individuals and society from achieving their full growth and development potential. The Sahel region is one of the poorest regions in the world, with more than half of its population living on less than one dollar per day. This extreme poverty is illustrated by some of the highest child mortality rates in the world. More than half of these death are associated with malnutrition and one in five children dies before their fifth birthday.
In the Millennium Declaration, the international community committed to decrease the number of children suffering from malnutrition by half between 1990 and 2015. Improving nutrition, particularly in the early years, is crucial towards meeting this goal and other Millennium Declaration Goals related to child survival and development.
This goal is possible to achieve. Many food and nutrient interventions have been proven to work and could easily be put into place.
“The nutrition situation of children in the Sahel requires a bold strategy to respond simultaneously to the immediate needs of malnourished children and to tackle the root and underlying causes of malnutrition,” Guluma said. “In our effort to improve child nutrition and survival, we must, by all means within our power, ensure access to adequate food, essential health services and education to all Sahel children.”
For the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, the campaign for child nutrition in the Sahel involves the management of child acute malnutrition and the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, breastfeeding with complementary food from six to 24 months, vitamin A supplementation, consumption of iodized salt, systematic deworming, iron-deficiency anaemia reduction programmes and fortification of staple foods.
The effort to improve nutrition involves working simultaneously across sectors, recognizing that access to essential health services, water, hygiene, sanitation, education are inextricably linked to child survival. “Better nutrition can transform the life of millions of children in the Sahel. But this can happen only if child nutrition and child survival is recognized as a development priority,” said Guluma. “It is essential to put child nutrition at the centre of child survival, poverty reduction and development strategies.”
For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.