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Survey reveals high malnutrition rates among pregnant women in Kenya

UNICEF Image: UNICEF video
© UNICEF video
UNICEF Emergency Nutrition Officer Emily Teshome measures the arm of a malnourished pregnant woman in Samburu district, Kenya.
By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 4 May 2006 – Pregnant women are showing even higher rates of malnutrition than children in parts of Kenya hit by the region’s worst drought in a decade. UNICEF nutritionists, who have surveyed remote communities in Moyale, Marsabit and Samburu districts, say their findings indicate an immediate need for more assistance to ensure the most vulnerable women and children survive what has become a chronic emergency.

Mother-of-five Asetiyo Lenawase lives in the village of Noisetet, 20 km outside Maralal town. Once a week her family sells a goat or a sheep at the market, enabling them to buy food that lasts for about three days. Most weeks, the family goes without food for three or four days.

“The goats we have here are emaciated,” says Ms. Lenawase. “They are not productive and have no milk. These small children can only feed on milk, so we try to make black tea for them, but they cannot take tea without milk. We try to look for other means to buy milk because we can’t even afford to buy it in the shops. We have a really big problem feeding our children.”

Mothers sacrifice for children

UNICEF Emergency Nutrition Officer Emily Teshome helped to carry out the nutrition survey. “We did this to be able to determine the nutrition status and at the same time find out who are the affected population,” she says. “This will enable us to allocate scarce resources in terms of relief food, health interventions and also water and sanitation.”

According to the survey results, more than 60 per cent of pregnant women in Samburu are malnourished, placing their lives and those of their unborn children at great risk. Children in the district are relatively better off, with 19 per cent acutely malnourished.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF video
© UNICEF video
Three children stand outside their family home in Kenya’s Samburu district. Due to the effects of the worst drought in a decade, they often go days without any food.
In Marsabit district, however, the malnutrition rates for children are higher (31 per cent) and the rates for pregnant women lower (37 per cent) than in Samburu. In Moyale, figures show 18 per cent malnutrition among children and 29 per cent among pregnant mothers.

“In this community, most mothers opt to give their meals to the younger children,” explains Ms. Teshome, referring to Samburu. “And if our survey indicates that more adults and more children are malnourished, then this strengthens the case for general food rations in this district.”

Feeding and education programmes

Besides increasing emergency food provision, she adds, UNICEF would like to see community-based therapeutic feeding centres and supplementary feeding programmes extended to these rural areas, to help combat the devastating effects of drought.

The nutrition survey also concludes that malnutrition rates are exacerbated by poor child-care habits and a lack of hygiene knowledge, which UNICEF would like to improve through education programmes.

Across the Horn of Africa, four failed rainy seasons have left 8 million people in dire need of live-saving assistance – including approximately 1.6 million children under the age of five. Although rain has been falling in parts of the region recently, the effects of the drought will be felt by women and children in Kenya for many months to come.




4 May 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on malnutrition among women and children in drought-stricken Kenya.

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