In Afghanistan, the nutritional situation of children is alarming.

26 May 2019

Among the 2 million children under the age of five years who are suffering from acute malnutrition, 600,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which is the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children.  

Afghanistan is one of the countries with the highest numbers of children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, alongside Yemen and South Sudan. 

In 2018, UNICEF, who is the sole provider of Ready to use therapeutic food for malnourished children in Afghanistan, could so far only target less than 50% of Severely malnourished children due to limited supplies (275,000). For 2019, the plan is to reach 60% of them (375,000). However, we will not reach them if we do not get -within 3 weeks- the required funding of 7 million USD (equivalent to 107,000 cartoons of RUTF).

If we do not get these funding within three weeks, we will not be able to procure, bring in and distribute the required supplies to the 1300 health facilities supported by UNICEF across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.  Children as such will not have access to the required treatment.  Malnutrition already accounts.

Any child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is a crisis and needs to be treated to survive.  So, what will happen if we do not receive these 7 million within three weeks? We cannot tell you how many children will die.  But we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.  Acute malnutrition reduces resistance to disease.  And in Afghanistan, only 1 in 2 children is vaccinated. The implication also includes lifelong physical and cognitive impairment.

The situation is complex against the backdrop of continued violence, climatic extremes (droughts and flash floods) multiple displacements, growing food insecurity and improper feeding habits.  The impact of the drought in 2018 has made matters worse and is further aggravating in 2019 the poor nutritional situation of children.  From data analysis in 2018, drought affected areas had an increase in 25% in children affected by severe acute malnutrition. The findings of the most recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan also show that 22 out of 34 provinces are currently above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. 

We have had to put on hold the plan to further decentralize treatment bringing it closer to children in need due to limited resources.  Without an improvement in the overall food and nutrition security situation, which requires urgent funding, the nutritional status of children in Afghanistan is likely to further deteriorate.

UNICEF program on nutrition in Afghanistan is only 50% funded (13 million USD out of 26,500,00 million USD needed in 2019).

Background: In Afghanistan UNICEF works through a two-prong approach treatment (as an immediate lifesaving intervention) and prevention through a life cycle approach and has interventions at various stages.

- In 2019, as an immediate lifesaving intervention for SAM, UNICEF has provided Ready to Use Therapeutic Food and support SAM treatment of over 73,000 children by the end of April 2019.  Plans and mechanisms are in place for immediate scale up to reach more children as soon as predictable funds are available.

- UNICEF provides iron folic acid supplementation to adolescent girls 10-19 years of age for anemia prevention in schools.  These are the ‘new’ mothers and it is crucial to prevent the vicious cycle of malnutrition from mother to child.

- UNICEF is supporting integration of counselling service on maternal infant and young child feeding across all provinces to ensure mothers and caregivers have the support needed for breastfeeding and complementary feeding of children 0-23 months

- UNICEF supports community-based programming in 7 provinces which supports mothers and caregivers on improved choices for feeding of their children 0-23 months to prevent undernutrition.

Media contacts

Alison Parker
Chief, Communication, Advocacy and Civic Engagement
UNICEF Afghanistan
Tel: +93 (0) 799 98 71 10
Feridoon Aryan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Afghanistan
Tel: +93 (0) 799 98 71 15


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