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Working to combat infant and child malnutrition in Cameroon

© UNICEF Cameroon/2008/ Bahringer
Preventing malnutrition in Cameroon is a challenge for families living in poverty and for those who have been displaced. UNICEF is working to help mitigate these challenges and save young lives.

By Christyne Bahringer

KOUSSERI, Cameroon, 15 May 2008  – The UNICEF warehouse in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon is filled with therapeutic milk and supplementary foods like 'Plumpy’nut' – all stocked in recent weeks to help battle malnutrition in several key provinces and in camps for families displaced by violence in neighbouring Chad.

For now, it appears that the nutritional status of most of the Chadian infants and children in the border camps is stable. However, in other areas there is a mounting crisis as rates of acute malnutrition among Cameroonian children have hit as high as 17 per cent – well beyond the emergency threshold. Moreover, during a period of sky-rocketing food prices, there is growing concern about food scarcity.

A strategic area

This is why Ngaoundéré, a sleepy town located between the northern border and the East Province, is such an important place in Cameroon right now. Strategically, it represents one of UNICEF Cameroon’s best tools against malnutrition in these areas.

“We must be prepared to control acute malnutrition in the refugee camp in Kousseri. We are far from resolving the situation already causing malnutrition in the east, where both Cameroonian children and refugee children from the Central African Republic are at risk,” said UNICEF Cameroon's Chief of Nutrition, Dr. Denis Garnier.

© UNICEF Cameroon/2008/ Bahringer
Food rations pose a special challenges to families living in Maltam Camp, located just outside Kousseri, Cameroon as families must learn to mix and portion out food.

'We are hungry'

According to Amadou Boukari, who is leading UNICEF’s nutrition response in Maltam Camp, it is fortunate that the majority of children who have arrived over the last few weeks are not malnourished, but the circumstances under which they arrived can easily lead to a decline in their health and nutritional status.

Families are now dependant upon food rations provided by UNICEF partners, and fear of running out is prompting many households to restrict the consumption of food. 

“We are hungry and it’s not easy to tell your family that this is all the food we can eat today. Maybe it is supposed to be enough, but we are not used to measuring our food so precisely – it makes us worry about running out of all a sudden,” said one father.

Another angle on malnutrition

In other parts of Cameroon, where a combination of poverty and displacement has already affected the nutritional status of a large portion of Cameroonian children and refugee children from the Central African Republic, malnutrition must also be seen from another angle.

“It’s not just about adequate supply, but also what kinds of foods are available and provided. Families need to be aware of young child feeding practices and complementary feeding,” Dr. Garnier explained. “Growing infants and children require very specific types of nourishment as they go through the stages of development. Otherwise, deficiencies can develop and hinder both physical and mental growth.

To monitor infant and child nutrition and development, UNICEF also supports nutritional screening in both Maltam camp and the Far North and North Provinces. Supplies such as scales and height boards allow UNICEF-trained community health workers to gauge a child’s growth and nutritional status.

It is with these tools and skills, as well as with ready supplies from Ngaoundéré, that UNICEF seeks to help families and communities prevent malnutrition from affecting any more children in Cameroon.



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