Good nutrition for the most vulnerable children and mothers
Malnutrition: Afghanistan’s silent emergency
An adequate well-balanced diet is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are more likely to be healthy, productive, and ready to learn. Undernutrition, by the same logic, is devastating. It blunts the intellect, saps productivity, and perpetuates poverty.
Why we need to make a change
• Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest rates of stunting in children under five: 41 percent.
• The rate of wasting, the extreme manifestation of severe acute malnutrition, in Afghanistan is extremely high: 9.5 per cent.
• One in three adolescent girls suffers from anaemia.
• Only half of Afghan babies are exclusively breastfed in their first six months.
• Only 12 per cent of Afghan children aged 6-24 months receive the right variety of food in the quantity needed for their age.
A country’s development needs brainpower & children need nourishment to feed the future.
Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest rates of stunting in children under the age of five: 41 per cent. Stunting is a sign of chronic undernutrition during the most critical periods of growth. It prevents children from reaching their potential. Stunted children are more likely to contract diseases, less likely to get basic health care, and do not perform well in school.
The rate of wasting in Afghanistan is also extremely high. Wasting, as its name suggests, is literally wasting away to skin and bones. Children are simply not getting enough food. The crushing result of acute malnutrition, it poses an immediate threat to a child’s survival. Due to rising insecurity and COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increase in the number of wasted children in Afghanistan and this situation remains a priority.
Chronic nutritional deficiency in Afghanistan is largely the result of the children eating the wrong types of food, in addition to not enough food. For example, only half of Afghan babies are exclusively breastfed in their first six months, and their exposure to contaminated liquids or foods places them at a greater risk of life-threatening illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. Most do not any fruit or vegetables on any given day.
Mothers are equally malnourished. When mothers have inadequate diets, a harmful cycle is created – malnourished infants grow up to become stunted mothers, generation after generation. This is a cycle we must break.
Despite impressive improvements in the past decade, Afghanistan’s health system still faces a number of challenges. Some cultural practices and preferences related to food limit the potential development of the next generation of Afghanistan leaders. Knowledge of good diets remains limited. Over the next year UNICEF will support the Government in rolling out an intensive information campaign. Nutrition services are part of all government health services however there are areas that are less accessible for regular services leaving some children at high risk. UNICEF helps by providing health and nutrition mobile services, however these could be expanded further. Mothers are not aware of their own nutritional needs. We need to improve their knowledge of, and access to, a healthy diet for themselves and their families. UNICEF will support the government in training and supporting Nutrition Counsellors, Community Health Workers, Midwives and other health workers who can teach families how to make small improvements in their eating habits that can result in big health gains.
Feeding every child
UNICEF supports nutrition activities in 34 provinces in Afghanistan, providing quality care for children, and pregnant and lactating women.
The way forward
UNICEF Afghanistan will continue to ensure critically ill acutely malnourished children receive timely treatment, no matter where they live. At the same time, we will improve the focus on prevention to ensure that fewer children become severely malnourished. This includes improving breast feeding practices as well as the diets of children to increase the variety of foods they eat. We will improve the diets of girls and women and educate families on how to make better food decisions for themselves and their families. We will break the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.