An additional 6.7 million children under 5 could suffer from acute malnutrition
On July 27, 2020, an article on the impacts of Covid-19 on child malnutrition and associated mortality was published in the scientific journal The Lancet by the “Standing Together for Nutrition Consortium”. This article assesses the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on acute malnutrition.
It indicates that an additional 6.7 million children under the age of 5 could suffer from acute malnutrition in the first year of the pandemic (i.e. a 14.3% increase in the number of emaciated children) in the absence of timely action, thus resulting in an additional 10,000 child deaths per month during the same period.
Madagascar is unlikely to be spared; and unless immediate action is taken, we could encounter a nutritional emergency in the months to come.
Indeed, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the prevalence of chronic malnutrition (or stunted growth) had been estimated at 42% (i), i.e. nearly 1.9 million Malagasy children under five years old across the country. Given this rate, Madagascar is ranked tenth among the most affected countries in the world and second in the East and Southern Africa region (ii). In addition, acute malnutrition (or wasting), which affected 6% of Malagasy children before the pandemic, i.e. about 170,000 children under five years of age each year, further worsens the image of malnutrition which is already precarious in the country. It is also important to bear in mind that malnutrition is associated with at least 44% of deaths among children under five in Madagascar (iii).
Thus, the directors of FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO at the global level have launched a call to action entitled “Child malnutrition and Covid-19: the time to act is now”. It is a call for concerted action in five key areas to protect maternal and child nutrition in the face of the pandemic: i / Protect and promote access to nutritious, safe and affordable food; ii / Invest in improving maternal and child nutrition; iii / Reactivate and expand the early detection and treatment services for acute malnutrition; iv / Maintain the provision of nutritious and safe school meals to vulnerable children and; v / Extend social protection to ensure access to nutritious food and essential services.
It is therefore urgent to put in place, as soon as possible, appropriate protective measures to avoid, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a further dramatic deterioration in the nutritional status and the excess mortality associated thereto among the most vulnerable groups in Madagascar. Concrete recommendations can include:
- The protection of food producers, processors and retailers, as well as the designation of food markets as essential services;
- The breastfeeding protection at all costs and the ban on the inappropriate marketing of infant formula (breast milk substitutes and weaning foods)
- Through the health system and community-based nutrition sites, maintaining access to essential nutrition services such as vitamin A supplementation for children under five years of age; Iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant women; The early detection and treatment of acute malnutrition through nutritional rehabilitation and education centers (CREN) and; Promoting optimal nutrition for young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers
- The provision of nutritious and safe school meals to vulnerable children
- The expansion of social protection to ensure access to nutritious food and essential services among the poorest and most affected households, including access to foods fortified with essential vitamins and minerals
“The commitment and support of the government, international donors, technical and financial partners, civil society and the private sector are essential to maintain access to basic social services, especially those having an impact on health and nutrition for the most vulnerable,” recalls Jean Benoit Manhes, Acting Representative of UNICEF in Madagascar.
(i) MICS 2018
(ii) UNICEF. State of the World Children. 2019
(iii) African Union Commission, NEPAD, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the WFP. The cost of hunger in Africa: the social and economic impact of child undernutrition. 2017
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