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Doubling efforts to address malnutrition among children in Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2009
A recently trained community agent, Louisette Jeanne Raketamanga, with a child being monitored for malnutrition in Madagascar, where UNICEF estimates that up to a quarter-million children are at risk due to drought.

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, 24 April 2009 – Drought is recurrent in the south of Madagascar. The last harvest was severely compromised by the lack of rain, and consequently, so was the capacity of households to feed their children.

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By the end of 2008, almost 400,000 people were living in food-insecure districts across Madagascar. The situation has only worsened since. Up to a quarter-million children are now reportedly at risk of disease and malnutrition.

A recent nutrition survey supported by UNICEF in five districts shows that global acute malnutrition rates in children under the age of five have reached serious levels. Additional surveys are planned in two additional drought-affected regions.

Avoiding illness and dehydration

"A broad spectrum of activities are needed to save the lives of children through a solid nutrition programme that treats children suffering from severe malnutrition, coupled with 'protection rations' of food to their families," said UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Bruno Maes.

Compounding the threat to child survival, the lack of rain has also significantly reduced the amount of safe water available for human consumption – including drinking, cooking and washing – leading to an increase in water-borne diseases.

"The lack of clean water urgently needs to be addressed to avoid illness and dehydration, and access to health care is crucial," said Mr. Maes.

'If only it was raining'

Zefita lives with her husband and four children in Ifotaka commune, located in Anosy Region.

© UNICEF Madagascar/2009/Pirozzi
A baby is monitored for growth and weight in Ambohijafy-Antanetikely district, Madagascar.

"My daughter is hungry. We only eat 'raketa' [cactus fruit] as we have nothing else," said Zefita. Now, her daughter Sambeantrano, 5, is weakened by malnutrition. "If only it was raining, we could cultivate maize or potatoes, but now we cannot do anything," the mother added.

Zefita walked 10 km, half carrying her daughter, to get to the closest health centre. Sambeantrano was immediately put on treatment for malnutrition using Plumpy'nut, a high-protein, high-energy, peanut-based paste provided by UNICEF to health and nutrition centres.

"My work is to detect malnourished children and follow up on them," said community health agent Louisette Jeanne Raketamanga, who is among those helping to address the current crisis. "We also do door-to-door visits and advise parents and families at community level."

Insufficient resources

Ms. Raketamanga and other community workers have been trained on prevention and treatment of malnutrition in collaboration with local village chiefs. Nearly 5,000 health agents are working to increase early detection of malnutrition throughout Madagascar.

Along with national and local health managers, UNICEF is seeking to build capacity in the worst affected areas.

Currently, over 100 health facilities are equipped to treat severely malnourished children. But more must be done. Resources are insufficient to cope with the increased number of malnourished children without disrupting routine immunization and other critical health services.

Appeal for emergency funding

"Additional financial resources are absolutely critical for us to be able to address the threat that the current drought poses to the survival of children," said Mr. Maes, who urged donors to respond to a recent appeal for emergency funding.

UN agencies and non-governmental organizations in Madagascar issued the 'flash appeal' on 7 April. They are appealing for support to expand treatment and health services in the south – such as purchases of Plumpy-doz food supplements and interventions to improve access to safe water for families and health facilities.

UNICEF also urgently needs funding to address the nutrition security of children in the main towns – including the capital, Antananarivo – which have been affected by political instability and the socio-economic crisis here.




3 April 2009: UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the malnutrition crisis in Madagascar.
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