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UNICEF and partners support the distribution of food supplements for children at risk of malnutrition in Mauritania

© UNICEF Mauritania/2012
UNICEF, in cooperation with the Government of Mauritania, the World Food Programme (WFP) and partner NGOs, is ramping up its response to the Sahel nutrition crisis by providing food supplements for children.

By Inez Lezama and Anthea Moore

KIFFA/BOUGHADOOUM, Mauritania, 9 July 2012 – At 8 a.m., 22-year-old Tahya Mint Bowbe, her 11-month-old son Cheikh and her 3-year-old sister Aminte Mint Bowbe waited in a queue of children and women at the health centre in Kiffa. They were there to participate in a malnutrition screening for children under age 5 and a blanket feeding program providing food supplements to all children aged 6 to 24 months.

By 10 a.m., the queue was so long that it had doubled back on itself several times. Still, the women, dressed in colourful ‘mulafas’, waited patiently.

Mauritania has been badly affected by the Sahel region’s drought crisis; it is estimated that as many as 90,000 of the country’s children could suffer global acute malnutrition in 2012. UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and partner NGOs are supporting the Ministry of Health’s implementation of the blanket feeding programme in regions with alarming rates of malnutrition. And in three regions, UNICEF is providing food supplements and training to the government health workers implementing the programme.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2012
A girl eats a supplemental food in Mauritania.

Malnutrition screening and food distribution

Malnutrition services across the country are already treating thousands of malnourished children, part of the response to the Sahel nutrition crisis. The supplementary feeding programme complements these services by distributing ready-to-use complementary food (RUCF) to prevent more children from becoming malnourished during the peak of the ‘lean season’ – the period before the harvests are in – over the next 3 months.

Aminte and Cheikh had their mid-upper arms measured to determine whether they were malnourished. Aminte was diagnosed as moderately malnourished and was referred to a local treatment centre. Yet even children considered in the ‘normal’ range may be at risk of becoming malnourished; supplemental food will help prevent this.

A one-month supply of supplemental food was provided for Cheikh, and Ms. Mint Bowbe received instructions on how to feed it to him. She was asked to bring both Aminte and Cheikh back at the end of the month to have the children’s nutritional status reassessed and to receive another month’s supply of supplemental food.

In ensure the programme’s success, UNICEF provided training for the government health workers who are implementing the programme. UNICEF also provided food supplements for 34,724 children in the regions of Assaba, Hod El Chargui and Hod El Garbi. WFP and NGOs are supporting the programme for an additional 34,400 children in other regions.

© UNICEF Mauritania/2012
As a result of the nutritional crisis, it is estimated that as many as 90,000 children could suffer global acute malnutrition in 2012.

Providing much needed help

In the small village of Boughadooum, home to a pastoralist community that has been hard hit by the drought and nutrition crisis, Zenibou Mint Mustafa brought her two daughters, 12-month-old Salma and 23-month-old Mariam, to be screened and to receive the supplemental food. Ms. Mint Mustafa said the community nurse told them about the program and that the food will be good for her children.

Salma has only ever been given breastmilk and water and is already moderately malnourished. Mariam, who has recently had a fever and diarrhoea, is at risk of becoming malnourished as well. Roughietou Diallo from the National Nutrition Service of the Ministry of Health explained to Zenibou that from 6 months of age children should begin to eat some food in addition to breastmilk.

With UNICEF’s support for the food supplements, regular assessments for her children and information on better feeding practices, Zenibou can better care for her children through these difficult times.



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