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Somalia, 11 April 2016: Malnutrition rates among children in IDP camps have complex causes

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Desie
Teenager Sabri with her baby daughter visit the Outpatient Centre in Garowe, Somalia for treatment for malnutrition.

GAROWE, Puntland, 11 April 2016 – Teenager Sabri had no time to enjoy her childhood – and now, at the age of just sixteen she is a single mother. She has lived nearly all her life in a camp for the internally displaced in Garowe, northern Somalia. Then she was married at 14, became pregnant and divorced when her daughter was just two months old.

Malnutrition in children is usually linked to lack of nutritious food as well as health issues such as diarrhoea. However, factors such as the age and situation of the mother can also have a major impact. Sabri’s history means it is not surprising that her daughter Palestine Mohamed was diagnosed as suffering from severe acute malnutrition at the age of 10 months.

In the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps the rates of malnutrition are at alarming levels and many factors are involved.

Teenage mothers often give birth to low weight babies – and Sabri, who was malnourished as a baby and gets little nutritious food in the camp is small for her age. She only breastfed her daughter for two months. After the divorce she had to go out to find jobs in the town such as cleaning or cooking to make an income.

Conditions in the camp are far from healthy and Sabri’s daughter often suffers from diarrhoea and a cough. Diarrhoea is often an underlying cause of malnutrition as the body is unable to keep the nutrients it needs.

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Desie
A young girl brings her siblings to the Centre for malnourished children in north east Somalia.

During a recent visit by the Nutrition cluster to a Garowe IDP site, 39 children were admitted to the Outpatient Therapeutic Programme for malnourished children under five. However only a third of them (14) came with their mothers, and over half of the mothers were aged 18 or under. The others came to the Centre with their siblings who are mostly children (10) themselves.

The story of Sabri and her daughter is a typical phenomenon of the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition where by teenage mothers give birth to low birth weight babies who are more likely to have growth failure during childhood. Girls born with a low birth weight are more likely to become small adult women.

The high rates of early marriage particularly in IDP camps mean that girls are not being educated, and research shows that educated mothers are more likely to have healthy children. There is also a high divorce rate with the fathers often spending time chewing khat, a plant that acts as a stimulant The mothers, who often have several children at a young age, then often have to go out to work leaving the child at home in the care of siblings. The young mothers often do not know about proper infant and young child feeding practices and are unable to afford to buy healthy food.

Luckily Palestine’s condition was noticed in time and she was admitted into the Outpatient Therapeutic Clinic run by Save the Children and supported by UNICEF and USAID. Sabri was given a supply of nutritious peanut-based paste to feed her daughter as well as regular health checks and in the following four weeks Palestine’s condition improved and she gained weight.



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