Promoting equity in nutrition health for children in The Gambia
As COVID-19 threatened to disrupt nutrition services, UNICEF intervened to avert a possible crises.
Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are better able to grow and learn, to contribute to their communities, and to be resilient in the face of disease, disasters and other crises.
But for many children suffering from malnutrition, the reality is stark. In The Gambia, for example, about one in every five children aged 0-5 years suffers from stunting – an irreversible condition that hinders the physical and cognitive growth of children.
“Malnutrition in all its forms remains a major challenge in The Gambia,” said Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, Minister of Health of The Gambia. “According to data from UNICEF, many children, especially in rural areas, are poorly nourished.”
To protect children from malnutrition-related deaths, UNICEF has stepped up its support to the Ministry of Health and the National Nutrition Agency across a wide range of activities and interventions. With funding from the Italian Agency for Development and Co-operation, UNICEF recently handed over more than three thousand cartons of lifesaving nutritional supplies to the Ministry of Health. The ready to use therapeutic food and milk will support the continuation of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) treatment services for more than 7000 children across The Gambia.
“These supplies will help severely malnourished children to gain weight rapidly while ensuring essential vitamins and micronutrients are provided during these critical physical and intellectual growth periods of infants and young children,” Minister Samateh said. “The consumption of this ration by SAM children, coupled with other interventions, are the leading contribution to the reduction of malnutrition in The Gambia. I would like to take this great opportunity to thank UNICEF for always supporting the Gambian children, especially malnourished ones to live a sound life.”
These supplies will help severely malnourished children to gain weight rapidly.
UNICEF, a leading advocate for early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding, is also supporting the country’s Integrated Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition programme and training of mothers to monitor the nutritional status of their children. But amidst COVID-19, fears run deep that most of the gains registered in reducing malnutrition could be reversed by the pandemic.
“It is estimated that more than 9000 children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition due to food insecurity and the effects of COVID-19 in The Gambia in the coming year”, said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “This makes Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) program an important life-saving component of primary health care services in The Gambia.”
Between 2016 and 2019, more than 18,000 children between ages of 0-5 were admitted and treated for Severe Acute Malnutrition in The Gambia. With an average recovery rate of 88%, the lives of more than 16,000 children were saved.
“Going forward, I would encourage the Ministry of Health and the National Nutrition Agency to include the IMAM program in the primary health care initiative,” Mr Lewis noted. “In addition, critical nutrition supplies should also be included in the country’s list of essential drugs as a sustainable means of addressing malnutrition.”