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High stakes for Malawi's children as malnutrition rises

Nairobi, 14 October -  Severe malnutrition is alarmingly on the increase among under-five children in Malawi but many could yet be pulled back from the brink if needed funds arrived to support the efforts of government and UN relief agencies.

“The numbers of malnourished children are many times higher than the normal emergency threshold,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Per Engebak. “Immediate and urgent action is needed to save lives.”

Already, more than 1,000 children with severe acute malnutrition are receiving therapeutic feeding at Nutritional Rehabilitation Units. The number of monthly admissions is expected to increase to 3,500 as many of the estimated 46,000 severely malnourished children seek treatment. 
A further 92,000 moderately malnourished children could become severely malnourished if they do not receive immediate assistance. 

“At the moment, mothers in many areas are feeding their children only cassava, which is low in the nutrients children need,” said Engebak. “These children are in a precarious situation. We will work with the World Food Programme to substantially increase the number of children benefiting from supplementary feeding from the current 16,000 to an additional 60,000 children and pregnant and lactating mothers.”

By all accounts, this year’s food crisis may turn out to be worse than the humanitarian crisis of three years ago. Admissions of severely malnourished children to 48 Nutrition Rehabilitation Units run by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and Action Against Hunger was one-quarter higher in August this year than during the humanitarian crisis of 2002.

While aid agencies had initially expected the crisis to peak in the lean hunger season of December to March, there are indications that the crisis may already be peaking in some areas, especially the south. This scenario has forced many agencies to review their plans in order to effectively address a rapidly deteriorating situation. 

“We have revised our earlier appeal from $2.5 million to $13 million,” said Engebak. “Of this sum, we intend to use $9m on nutritional activities, including expanding therapeutic centers, providing micronutrients to 500,000 pregnant and lactating women, and de-worming of children” he said.

The WFP is also rapidly expanding food assistance in seven southern districts and plans to reach up to 2 million people by early November with maize, pulses and oil. These measures, targeted at the poor and most vulnerable, will complement the efforts of government and other donors to ensure adequate supplies of humanitarian and commercial maize are available in country. 

The onset of the rainy season in November, while heralding the beginning of a new planting season, could see the outbreak of diseases which would further threaten malnourished children. UNICEF and WHO have pre-positioned emergency drugs, including oral rehydration salts and chloride for water treatment and other medical supplies to treat up to 1,000 cholera cases.

For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 157 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Adebayo Fayoyin, UNICEF Malawi: +265 992 2743;

Pat Lone, UNICEF ESARO, Nairobi: +254 20 622218;

Victor Chinyama, UNICEF ESARO, Nairobi: +254 722 701 505;





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