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Nutritional screening to save lives in Timor-Leste

DILI, 30 June 2006 – The Ministry of Health of Timor-Leste, supported by UNICEF and other partners, plan to begin the nutritional screening of displaced children in the capital, Dili, today to assess the scale of malnutrition as the country enters its third month of emergency.
The exercise is expected to go ahead despite fresh outbreaks of violence in Dili over the past two days, which have disrupted work being carried out in camps housing tens of thousands of people.  Safety fears have impeded the movement of government and humanitarian aid workers, leading to a slowdown in activity, including an ongoing measles immunization drive in the camps.

The nutritional screening targeting children aged six months to five years will begin at the Comoro Has Laran Canossa camp and is intended to cover all shelters in Dili over the next month, depending on the security situation.  The goal is to reach an estimated 10,000 children, although the numbers may fluctuate according to security issues.

“Now, with the ongoing emergency, food is scarcer and more costly and camp conditions more conducive to disease,” said Jennifer Barak, UNICEF Project Officer for Child Survival and Maternal Health Care.  “The fear is that the health and nutritional status of children will deteriorate further.  This rapid screening is to ensure that the most severe cases of malnutrition are identified and referred for treatment immediately.”
Doctors accompanied by trained staff from the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will conduct the rapid assessment by measuring each child’s mid-upper arm circumference, which is an indicator of nutritional status.  Those who appear to be malnourished will have their weight and height taken as further confirmation.  Children identified as severely malnourished will be immediately referred to the Dili National Hospital for therapeutic feeding while moderately malnourished children will be taken care of by doctors based in the camps.

Before the crisis, Timor-Leste was already the most undernourished country in the Asia-Pacific region.  Around 50 per cent of children below five years old are underweight, with 14 per cent severely underweight and 48 per cent stunted.

A training of NGO and health ministry staff was underway in Dili on Thursday and a short training will resume Friday morning before the nutritional screening begins.

The latest estimates place the number of displaced people in Dili at more than 72,000, living in 65 camps, while some 79,000 Timorese have fled to the districts, living mainly with relatives and host families.  It is estimated that around 75,000 children throughout the country are displaced.

For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, 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:

Shui-Meng Ng, Representative, UNICEF Timor-Leste, Tel. +670 723 1097, sng@unicef.org

Bridgette See, Communication Consultant, UNICEF Timor-Leste, Tel. +670 728 0892, bsee@unicef.org

Jennifer Barak, Project Officer Child Survival & Maternal Health Care, UNICEF Timor-Leste, Tel. +670 727 3987, jbarak@unicef.org





27 June 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on how sports help Timorese children cope while living in crowded camps.
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