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Tanzania, 17 June 2015: In refugee camp, malnutrition a growing risk for Burundian children

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Khangarue Media
Emelyne’s one year-old twin daughters, Lydia and Floride, are among children admitted with severe acute malnutrition in Nyarugusu nutrition centre, Kigoma, Tanzania.

By Sandra Bisin

17 June 2015, Nyarugusu Refugee camp, Kigoma, United republic of Tanzania – At the busy nutrition centre, children admitted with severe acute malnutrition are given specialized feeding and therapeutic care to help rehabilitate them. Emelyne’s one year-old twin daughters, Lydia and Floride, are among these children. They have been receiving treatment for a week now.

One month after the first influx of 56,000 refugees to Tanzania’s north-western Kigoma region due to social unrest in Burundi, children under five are at risk of malnutrition and require urgent humanitarian support. Over 60 per cent of the refugee population in Nyarugusu camp are children.

Children have been disproportionately affected by the crisis as they have been uprooted from school. Some were separated from their families or subjected to violence. Many are still suffering from common diseases due to lack of basic health care, water and sanitation facilities. Emelyne says: “My daughters got sick when we reached Kagunga village in Tanzania, on the border with Burundi. We stayed there for a week. The conditions were bad, we did not have enough to eat, many people were getting sick. My daughters had severe diarrhea.”

Protecting the nutritional status of vulnerable populations affected in emergencies is essential to prevent acute malnutrition, diseases and death. A major concern in emergencies is the increased risk of moderate and severe acute malnutrition among children.

As refugees were being transported to Nyarugusu camp, UNICEF supported screening of malnutrition, targeting all children under five years of age, in partnership with the Tanzania Red Cross Society.

So far almost 14,000 children have been screened for malnutrition, of which 75 children were identified with severe acute malnutrition and 91 with moderate acute malnutrition, all of whom are receiving appropriate nutrition therapy. Those children with severe malnutrition were admitted to the nutrition centre in Nyarugusu camp, received treatment and 30 of them have already recovered. In addition over 3,200 children aged 6-59 months have received Vitamin A supplementation and 6,250 children were given deworming tablets. Almost 19,000 pregnant and lactating women have attended infant and young child feeding education sessions.

Although the rates of malnutrition are still low among the refugee child population, increasing cases of diseases such as malaria and limited capacity of health services increasingly put children at risk of malnutrition. UNICEF is working with national and international partners and the government of Tanzania to deliver a comprehensive nutrition response that includes:

  • Protecting and promoting breastfeeding for children under two years of age – a lifesaving intervention;
  • Providing essential micronutrient supplements for children and counseling mothers and families on how to feed young children with available foods;
  • Supporting screening to identify children with severe acute malnutrition in Nyarugusu camp;
  • Delivering specialized ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat children with severe acute malnutrition;
  • Working through community private radio stations to deliver life-saving information on maternal and child nutrition to the refugee population.

For Emelyne, there is a glimmer of hope for her daughters: “I am confident my children will recover.”



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