Brief: Joint statement on nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic in MENA

Executive summary and accompanying brief

two boys eating


Governments and partners across the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) are acting to protect citizens from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). These crucial efforts will save many lives. However, measures needed to slow the transmission of the disease are resulting in hardship for many vulnerable families. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic is having worrying impacts on household incomes, food supply chains, health services and schools.

The recently released Global Report on Food Crises 2020 highlights how serious the impact of the pandemic could be for countries already facing a food crisis. It is likely to have a major negative impact on the quantity, frequency and diversity of the food children eat, creating new food crises or worsening existing ones.

The United Nations Network on Nutrition, comprising the FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, is closely following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nutrition status of those most affected, particularly the poor and vulnerable in the MENA, Eastern Mediterranean and Arab Regions.

According to the latest estimates, nearly 110 million people were undernourished in the Region. Further, an estimated 7.6 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting; 20 million children were stunted, and 5.4 million children were overweight in the Region.

The current situation aggravates the difficulties many families already face in terms of the availability, access and affordability of better varieties of safe and nutritious foods.

We urgently call upon governments, international development partners, donors and all other stakeholders to tackle the issues relating to the availability, access and affordability of safe and nutritious foods which are of high concern to many, and to take immediate action to protect the nutritional status of the most vulnerable families, especially pregnant, lactating women and young children across the Regions, while implementing appropriate infection prevention and control measures. The key actions needed are as follows.

  1. Food security and healthy diets
  2. Maternal, infant and young child nutrition
  3. Management of wasting
  4. Micronutrient supplementation
  5. School feeding and nutrition
  6. Nutrition surveillance

This statement was developed based on the current understanding of COVID-19 and recommendations for physical distancing. Our advice will be updated periodically as new evidence emerges and we continue to develop our understanding of how to deliver effective nutrition support programmes in the context of COVID-19. A more detailed brief on each of the six domains, a glossary and resources on healthy diets, and a set of references accompany this statement.

We, the Regional Directors of the four United Nations agencies, will support the leadership of all our Member States in the Region to respond and recover from the impact on nutrition caused by COVID-19.

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