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Quick response to food crisis saves the lives of undernourished children in Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2006/Martin
With intensive treatment, Anastasia, 2, is finally recovering from severe acute malnutrition.

By Sandrine Martin

VANGAINDRANO DISTRICT, Madagascar, 16 March 2006 – After 27 days of intensive care, therapeutic feeding and her mother’s bedside vigil, two-year-old Anastasia is finally recovering. Her eyes, once dull and sickly, are now full of life.  She is almost unrecognizable as the little girl who could barely breathe when she first arrived at the health centre here.

Anastasia is one of thousands of children who have been affected by acute malnutrition in this district in southeastern Madagascar. With the last harvest of rice and manioc destroyed by floods and the sweet potato fields ruined by crop disease, one in five children in the region is undernourished.

The poor harvest means not only inadequate food but also drastically reduced income for families, thus restricting their ability to buy critical medicines and basic necessities. Children, as ever in such situations, are suffering the most.

© UNICEF Madagascar/2006/Martin
The last harvest was ruined by floods and crop disease, leaving one in five children undernourished in Vangaindrano District, Madagascar.

Strong start, difficult challenges

UNICEF has been quick to respond to the crisis, launching a nutritional rehabilitation programme with the Government of Madagascar and other humanitarian partners. To date, 24,000 children under the age of five and 4,500 pregnant and lactating women have benefited from this effort.

Five therapeutic feeding centres have been set up to care for severely malnourished children. Another 24 mobile teams are reaching out to more than 5,000 children with therapeutic and supplementary feeding services.

The European Commission is contributing $600,000 to support UNICEF’s response, and the Government of Norway has donated 1.5 tons of therapeutic food. It is a strong start, but reaching children and women in remote villages has proven difficult.

“Most of the villages are very isolated. Roads and bridges are in very bad condition,” explains UNICEF’s Field Coordinator in Vangaindrano, Virginie Razanantsoa. “We try to go as far as we can to reach all the people, and sometimes it’s a real challenge.”

Treatment and prevention

Despite logistical and funding obstacles in the affected areas, the country office reports that UNICEF is reaching 70 per cent of all undernourished children – including more than 90 per cent of those who are severely undernourished. Families with children at risk receive food rations consisting of rice, beans, oil and salt.

UNICEF’s outreach teams seek not only to treat but also to prevent malnutrition. They keep a close eye on children’s health and nutritional status, monitor food distribution and provide supplements such as vitamin A, as well as measles vaccines. For those children who do become severely undernourished, UNICEF and its partners work to provide therapeutic interventions like the treatment young Anastasia has received.

Anastasia is now healthy enough to return home. But doctors advise that she continue to attend the nutritional rehabilitation programme offered by UNICEF-supported mobile feeding units until she completely recovers.

“Without the enriched flour and the family ration, I could not feed my child or the rest of the family,” says Anastasia’s mother. “We just hope the next harvest will be good.”




16 March 2006:
UNICEF’s Sandrine Martin reports on efforts to save the lives of undernourished children in Madagascar.

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