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News note

Iraq: Restore public health system for malnourished children

BAGHDAD, 25 May 2003 - UNICEF recently conducted a rapid assessment survey to determine the current rate of malnutrition among children under the age of five, with the results being released 10 days ago.

The results showed that acute malnutrition among children had almost doubled since before the war, jumping from 4 per cent to 7.7 per cent. Children who are acutely malnourished are literally wasting away, and for severe cases their condition can be fatal. Acute malnutrition sets in very fast and is a strong indicator of the overall health of children.

Prior to the war, UNICEF supported a network of 3,000 Community Child Care Units or CCCUs, staffed by roughly 13,000 volunteers. CCCUs were set up to screen children for malnutrition in order to catch children in the early stages and to assist their recovery.

When a child was found to be malnourished, they were sent to the local Primary Health Care Centre (PHC) for treatment and received High Protein Biscuits to aid in their recuperation. Severely malnourished children were referred to Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (NRCs) established in 63 hospitals countrywide for more intensive treatments. The CCCU network screened 1.2 million children last year.

Unfortunately, this system collapsed with the onset of the fighting. UNICEF is now working hard to re-establish the entire network in order to reach all children suffering from malnutrition and to provide families with vital information on how to prevent malnutrition, diarrhea and other diseases that pose a threat to children's health and wellbeing.

UNICEF and the Iraqi Nutritional Research Institute are currently undertaking a massive investigation of all CCCUs, PHCs and NRCs to assess damages caused by the war and looting and to find out what their urgent staffing and supply needs are. The assessment will be completed by tomorrow 26 May 2003, and we expect the final report within the week.

We will then begin a process of reactivating the system, fixing the infrastructure, supplying the centres, and training new volunteers.

So far, we have managed to reactivate the network in Umm Qasr, and we have 100 of the 300 CCCUs now screening children in Baghdad.

Until the entire system is functional again, which we hope will be soon, UNICEF has been ensuring that PHCs have a steady supply of High Protein Biscuits and Therapeutic Milk to assist children suffering from malnutrition.

In the past couple of weeks we have delivered 112,000 kilos of biscuits to assist the recovery of 56,000 malnourished children.


For further information, please contact:

For more information on UNICEF activities in the areas of child Health, Nutrition, Water, Education, Sanitation and Child Protection, please contact:

Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Iraq, (Sat.) 873-762-86-9918, (Th.) 882-165-420-1806, gkeele@unicef.org

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, 212 326 7426, gweiss@unicef.org




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