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A continuing food crisis in Malawi afflicts more than 4 million people—and more than a million of them are children under age five or pregnant women.
Food insecurity is not only a major cause of malnutrition, but has also worsened the risk for diseases such as cholera and AIDS.
Nearly half of Malawi’s population struggles to live on less than $1 a day.
Issues facing children in Malawi
As recently as 2004, there was optimism that Malawi might meet its Millennium Development Goal targets for reducing child mortality, but the food crisis has dashed those hopes. Malawi’s infant and under-five mortality rates (110 and 175 per 1,000 live births, respectively) are once again among world’s highest. The deadliest threats are malaria, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and nutritional deficiencies.
It is estimated that nearly 2 per cent of live births in Malawi result in the death of the mother.
HIV/AIDS affects nearly a million people, including 83,000 children. Nearly a third of infected mothers pass the virus to their babies.
Half of Malawi’s 1 million orphans have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Child abuse, sexual exploitation and child labour are serious problems, especially among girls and orphans.
Primary school enrolment rates remain high, with no gender gap.
Activities and results for children
In 2005, UNICEF and the World Food Programme provided life-saving therapeutic feeding to 1,000 severely malnourished children per month. Some 92,000 moderately malnourished children and 42,000 moderately malnourished pregnant women received supplementary feeding.
Immunization rates for deadly childhood diseases are high. There have been no recent cases of polio in the country. More than 2 million children received measles immunizations and vitamin A supplements during a nationwide campaign.
A significant increase in the use of insecticide-treated bed nets has reduced malaria. Approximately 60 per cent of children under age five and 55 per cent of pregnant women now sleep under mosquito nets, up from only 9 per cent in 2001. Nearly 3 million nets were retreated with insecticide in 2005.
By late 2005, UNICEF and its partners were procuring antiretroviral drugs for 33,000 people living with AIDS – an exponential increase from only 4,000 who were receiving treatment in early 2004.
Exclusive breastfeeding rates have improved from 3 per cent in 1992 to 44 per cent by 2004.
UNICEF’s advocacy has helped to make children’s rights a national priority. The government has committed $20 million to a National Plan of Action for orphans and vulnerable children. The proposed Children and Young Persons Bill addresses the issues of child trafficking, abduction, exploitation, foster care and children in conflict with the law.