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Angola, 24 October 2012: Responding to the nutrition crisis from the international to the community level

© UNICEF Angola/2012/Agarwal
In Bie Province, Angola, a community volunteer measures a 4-year-old boy's arm circumference to check his nutrition status.

In September 2012, UNICEF released the 2012 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed. The report shows that the number of children dying before the age of 5 has drastically declined over the past two decades.

Click here for more information on A Promise Renewed.

By Luca Solimeo

SUMBE, Angola, 24 October 2012 - Madalena walks more than 30 km a day to collect water for her family. She lives in a small town close to Sumbe, Kwanza Sul Province, central Angola, which has been affected by severe drought.

Recently, she realized that her two younger children were losing weight and had strange stains on their feet. They had stopped playing, running and singing joyfully.

Severe drought and food shortage

Hundreds of thousands of families in 10 provinces of Angola – more than half of the country – have been severely hit by drought this year. Rainfall has been 60 per cent less than average. It’s the worst drought Angola has seen in years.

Agricultural production has decreased by an estimated 400,000 tonnes. Food stocks are almost finished in much of the area.

© UNICEF Angola/2012/Correia
Packets of Plumpy'nut in a therapeutic feeding centre, Huambo, Angola. Plumpy'nut is a therapeutic product that can be consumed at home.

According to projections of the Government of Angola, this year, at least 500,000 children under 5 could suffer from global acute malnutrition in the 10 provinces.

Immediate and effective response to nutrition crisis

The Government of Angola has developed a plan to provide an integrated response to the nutrition crisis, with the support of the international community and local NGOs. The number of inpatient and outpatient therapeutic feeding centres is being scaled up.

In addition, in the coming weeks, a mass screening for malnutrition in the 10 provinces affected by drought will be carried out, involving all health facilities, local authorities and networks of volunteers. The screening is an opportunity to identify the most affected areas. Overall, the response will be able to be better targeted. Severely malnourished children can be referred to feeding centres, and community-based treatment of moderate malnutrition could be launched.

“We aim at ensuring an immediate and effective response in all the most vulnerable areas,” says National Director of Public Health at the Ministry of Health Dr. Adelaide Carvalho. “But it is also vital to introduce mechanisms, tools and initiatives which set the ground for a longer-term resilience of families so as to protect children against malnutrition.”

In June 2012, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund allocated US$5.1 million to UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization to complement government efforts to deal with the nutrition crisis in Angola.

Mobilizing community health activists

Engaging community health activists has proven to be the best way a response can be launched at the community level. The objective is to provide basic guidance and assistance to families living too far from a health facility to access basic health services, and to ensure the community-based management of malnutrition.

By the beginning of November, with the support of the Government, UNICEF, World Vision and other international and national NGOs, about 2,000 community health activists will have been trained to identify cases of malnutrition and to guide families on how to respond quickly to prevent and treat acute malnutrition.

Handling and preventing malnutrition at the community level

Last July, the Provincial Health Department of Kwanza Sul Province, with the support of UNICEF, organized training on acute malnutrition in children. Participants learned how to identify severe and moderate acute malnutrition in children under 5 years old.

Francisca is a community volunteer in Madalena’s village who participated in the training. When she saw Madalena’s children, she told her that their lives could soon be in danger without proper treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Madalena took the children to the closest health centre for a medical visit.

The children were transferred to a therapeutic health centre. There, they were treated and received Plumpy’nut, a therapeutic product that contains peanut paste, vegetable oil, milk powder, vitamins and minerals.

Once back home, Madalena continued the treatment with Francisca’s guidance. Francisca advised her on weekly doses of Plumpy’nut and visited the two children regularly to monitor their status.

“It is…thanks to the many Franciscas supporting and guiding hundreds of Madalenas that child malnutrition can be handled or prevented at the community level,” says UNICEF Representative in Angola Koenraad Vanormelingen. “And UNICEF is glad and determined to support the Government and the civil society to ensure the survival and healthy development of Angolan children.”



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