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UNICEF: Malnutrition among children in southern CAR alarming

Malnutrition rates rise above emergency levels as funding dwindles

BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, 11 August 2009 – UNICEF today expressed alarm at the rising rates of acute malnutrition among children in southern Central African Republic, as the global financial crisis, the decline in diamond mining and the displacement of people due to ongoing conflict take their toll on the economy and consequently the most vulnerable.

“In both the conflict affected north and the more stable south, almost 700,000 children under five are living below acceptable standards. Many are moving toward the outer edge of survival,” said Jeremy Hopkins, acting representative of UNICEF in CAR. “The situation of children in the south is of particular concern, due to the rapidly deteriorating nutritional status in tandem with an increasingly bleak funding outlook.”

UNICEF is appealing to donors for $1.5 million for lifesaving therapeutic foods, drugs and other supplies; to conduct a national nutritional survey; and train community health workers in early detection of children and women whose nutritional status is compromised.

Preliminary assessments conducted recently in three provinces – Mambéré Kadei, Sangha Mbaéré and Lobaye – revealed that 16 per cent of children under five are acutely malnourished, and 6.6 per cent are severely acutely malnourished, far above the emergency thresholds of 2 per cent for severe acute malnutrition and 15 per cent for global acute malnutrition. Children with severe acute malnutrition have much higher odds of dying than well-nourished children.

An estimated 16,710 children in the areas surveyed are at risk.

This disturbing situation comes on top of already high rates of acute malnutrition throughout the country, where more than one in 10, or 68,000, children aged from 6 to 59 months suffer from global acute malnutrition and 2.3 per cent, or 15,500, suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

The chronic malnutrition in CAR stems from several causes, including devastating poverty –more than six in 10 Central Africans live on less than $1.25 a day–; the ongoing conflict and insecurity; and loss of income in areas such as Mambéré Kadei, whose mining sector is adversely affected by the global economic downturn.

The country’s HIV prevalence of 6.3 per cent, the highest in the West Africa region, is also contributing to the precarious nutritional situation of children and their families.

Severe acute malnutrition is one of the top three nutrition-related causes of death in children under five. Severely malnourished children have a nine-fold greater risk of dying. Malnutrition can also prevent children from reaching their full physical and mental potential.

UNICEF is coordinating the efforts of a range of partners responding to this nutritional emergency, including the World Food Programme, World Health Organization, Action Contre la Faim, Médecins sans Frontières, International Medical Corps and Medical Emergency Relief International.

 “These children’s lives, their ability to learn, to earn, and to lead productive lives is being stunted by this tragic crisis,” said Hopkins. “These children could be leading normal lives. We must try harder to fulfill their rights.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 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 further information, please contact:
Hyewon Lee, UNICEF Bangui,
Tel + 236 75 70 63 90,
E-mail: hlee@unicef.org

Martin Dawes, UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa,
Tel + 221 775 69 19 26,
E-mail: mdawes@unicef.org

Veronique Taveau, UNICEF Geneva,
Tel + 41 22 909 5716,
E-mail: vtaveau@unicef.org

Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7452,
E-mail: kdonovan@unicef.org




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