At just five months old, little Ehsan's life was in danger...

But his life was saved when UNICEF provided emergency therapeutic food to malnourished children across Afghanistan

By Hasinullah Qayoumi
Malnutrition picture
07 February 2022

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - Last year, at only 5-months-old, Ehsan Ahmed was treated for severe pneumonia. This year, at 16-months, his body is still weakened from the pneumonia, he has been treated for severe acute malnutrition.

The youngest in his family, for the last four weeks Ehsan has been receiving treatment at the nutrition department in the Mirza Mohammad Khan Comprehensive Health Center in Kandahar City. UNICEF supports this facility by providing ready-to-use-therapeutic-Food (RUTF), the cornerstone of Ehsan's treatment. He clearly enjoys it. While we are in his home, he gazed at the red packaging and sucked greedily at it when his mother tore it open.

She told me, “All my children had severe acute malnutrition, but all have grown strong again after courses of RUTF.”

Malnutrition picture

As a result of drought, a poor harvest, poverty, and rising unemployment, Afghanistan is enduring one of the worst nutrition crises in living memory. Out of the 1.1 million children in Afghanistan battling severe acute malnutrition, Ehsan is one of the luckier ones.

The first time he was treated by the nutrition counsellor, he weighed around 9.3 kg but by his fifth visit, he was healthier and weighed 10.2 kg -- which is normal as per the nutrition counselor’s charts.

In response to the escalating malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan, UNICEF is scaling up its nutrition programmes, including procuring more RUTF, training more nutrition counsellors and doubling the number of mobile health and nutrition teams to reach children and mothers in the most rural communities.

In Kandahar City, Afghanistan, 5-month-old Ehsan receives a packet of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) from a nutrition counsellor to treat his severe acute malnutrition.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022/Qayoumi
Ehsan receives a sachet of therapeutic food from the nutrition counselor, which UNICEF supplies to health centres like Mirza Mohammad Khan. Each packet contains a nutritious peanut paste fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Everyone hopes this visit to the nutrition department will be Ehsan's last.

Right after a checkup, he caught sight of some RUTF and reached out for it excitedly. His mother told us that, “Even when he sees an empty sachet of RUTF, he cries for it.”

UNICEF is the sole provider of RUTF in Afghanistan. It is the fastest and most efficient way to treat children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

That’s why UNICEF is appealing to the donor community to support this critical programme for children in Afghanistan.

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After a raft of tests by nutrition counselors, Ehsan Ahmad was given another 32 sachets of RUTF to ensure his full recovery. Even while his mother hugged him, he wriggled free to reach for one of the sachets!

Ehsan Ahmad’s mother told us that, “RUTF has given light back to her children’s lives.”

UNICEF is in Afghanistan, on the ground, as we have been for more than 70 years, supporting children and mothers. We won’t stop; we’re here to light up the lives of every child.

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“A huge number of nutrition cases are due to poverty, lack of breastmilk, high unemployment rates, drought, a lack of nutritious food, and not enough family planning,” a nutrition counsellor tells us.

Ehsan Ahmad’s father has been unemployed for almost a year. He had a rickshaw which brought him an income of US$ 1.5-2 per day. When Ehsan had severe pneumonia last year, his father was forced to sell the rickshaw and use the takings for Ehsan Ahmad’s treatment.

Today, he was neither rickshaw nor income and, since August, he finds it difficult to even find bread and tea to survive. Ehsan Ahmad’s mother tells me, “We have many days and nights without food”.

Currently, Ehsan’s father is a daily laborer. On average, he manages 3 days of work which brings him around US$9 a week, to feed a family of 7.

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Back home, Ehsan Ahmad is healthier and happier than in recent weeks; he plays with his siblings.

As they come to say goodbye to me, I smile when they line up in their matching outfits their mother has made for them.

As the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan spirals, UNICEF expects to see a desperate situation unravel further.

Without urgent action, over 1 million children under the age of 5 will be at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition. A further 3.2 million are acutely malnourished.

RUTF works.

Nutrition counsellors work.

Mobile health and nutrition teams work.

Please help us to help the children of Afghanistan.  

#ForEveryChild, health