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Geneva Palais Briefing Note: Malnutrition among Rohingya child refugees

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

© UNICEF/LeMoyne

GENEVA, 27 October 2017 - We are working to get a clear understanding on the extent of acute malnutrition among Rohingya child refugees and a nutrition survey is underway which will give us this data in November. What we already know is that the combination of malnutrition, sanitary conditions, and disease in the refugee settlements, is potentially catastrophic for children.

On the newest arrivals: During the recent mass influx, when thousands of refugees were stuck at the border on the 16th, 17th, and 18th of October, UNICEF screened 340 children. This was a rough and rapid exercise to identify children who needed immediate, life-saving treatment. Of the 340 children screened at the border, 33 were found to be severely acutely malnourished (SAM). Screening conducted on sick children who were brought to a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic found 14 SAM cases among 103 children. This is an extremely small number of children, so these numbers are not representative. They do however tell us that some children are close to death by the time they make it across the border.

Among refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25, UNICEF and partners had screened 59,604 children as of 25 October, with 1,970 identified as SAM, and 6,971 as moderately acutely malnourished. These numbers roughly correspond to the pre-crisis malnutrition rates – which were already above the emergency threshold – 21.2% global acute malnutrition and 3.6% severe acute malnutrition, according to a survey conducted in May 2017 in makeshift settlements.

In Rakhine State, malnutrition rates in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, where the vast majority of refugees come from, were also already above emergency thresholds – global acute malnutrition rates of 19% in Maungdaw and 15.1% in Buthidaung, SAM rates of 3.9% in Maungdaw and 2% in Buthidaung. Since August 25, we have had to stop treating 4,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in northern Rakhine because we have had no access.

Measles cases (see below for data) have been reported both among the settled population and new arrivals. And despite a cholera vaccination campaign that exceeded its target of 650,000, the risk of diarrheal disease and dysentery remains exceptionally high.

UNICEF, together with partners, is focusing on establishing nutrition treatment centres – 15 so far including one mobile post, with 6 more being set up now in Kutupalong and the new extension, where most of the new arrivals are heading. Almost 2,000 children with severe acute malnutrition are being treated right now. We have procured ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severe acute malnutrition, with more supplies coming. We are working with health partners to identify and treat diarrhea and pneumonia – which worsen malnutrition – and to vaccinate children, and we are working to support mothers so that they can properly feed their infants and young children. Crucially, we continue our work to make safe water and sanitation accessible for more refugees.

Funding remains a constraint – our $76 million appeal is still only 18% met.


Notes for editors:

• Among Rohingya from before the August 25 influx, there have been 34 confirmed measles cases and 3 clinical measles cases have been reported. Seven cases are pending. Most cases are among young children (WHO data as of 25 October)
• Suspected cases of measles have also been found among children who have just crossed the border or are at border crossings. Five children have been sent to mobile health clinics for treatment.

On malnutrition terminology:
Although acute malnutrition can affect anyone, it is particular concern among children below 5 years old, because if left untreated the risk of death is high.
• Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) requires urgent life-saving care as a child with SAM is up to nine times as likely to die as a well-nourished child. The emergency threshold is 3% prevalence.
• A child with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) is up to three times as likely to die as a well-nourished child. While the immediate risk of mortality for a child with SAM is higher than a child with MAM, the total number of children affected by MAM is often much greater than those affected by SAM.
• Global acute malnutrition (GAM) is a combination of SAM and MAM, and together with the crude mortality rate and under-5 mortality rate, is one of the basic indicators for assessing the severity of a humanitarian crisis. The emergency threshold is 15% prevalence.
Photos and videos can be downloaded here
For more information please contact:

Joe English, UNICEF New York, jenglish@unicef.org, +1 917 893 0692
Marixie Mercado, UNICEF Geneva, mmercado@unicef.org, +4179 559 7172
Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF Geneva, cboulierac@unicef.org, +41 799639244
Jean Jacques Simon, UNICEF Bangladesh, jsimon@unicef.org, +880 01713043478

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