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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Preventing and treating malnutrition in DR Congo

Eleven-month-old Elaine's mid-arm circumference is measured in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the course of the treatment, it has increased by millimetres.

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 4 May 2012 – “I am grateful for the miracle that happened to us,” said Mariam. Three weeks ago, she arrived at the therapeutic feeding unit in Camp Vangu, in Lumumbashi, carrying her 11-month-old daughter, Elaine. The little girl was too weak to even open her eyes.

At the centre, Elaine was evaluated and treated with sachets of ready-to-use therapeutic food. She has since gained 1 kg, and now has the energy to smile. “This is the third Wednesday that we have come here, and look at her,” said Mariam. ”She is so beautiful now.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. Even though the prevalence of global acute malnutrition decreased from 16 per cent in 2001 to 11 per cent in 2010, the rates remain unacceptably high. And high rates of stunting have persisted: 43 per cent of children aged 6 to 59 months are stunted.

A vicious cycle

“It is a paradox that in this country – which has a tremendous potential of agriculture, mineral resources and manpower – children continue to starve,” said Sylvain Malamba, a nutrition specialist at UNICEF.

Malaria and diarrhoeal diseases – major causes of child death in DR Congo – also contribute to malnutrition, which in turn leaves children vulnerable to opportunistic diseases. Insufficient quality and quantity of food, poor infant feeding practices and preventable diseases together form a vicious.

To measure Mantoumbai's nutritional status, his mid-arm circumference is measured, in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Only 37 per cent of children in DR Congo are exclusively breastfed, and 18 per cent suffer frequent diarrhoea.

But there are major challenges to large-scale nutrition interventions in DR Congo, including the high costs of therapeutic feeding, including ready-to-use therapeutic foods, and the geographical inaccessibility of many sites affected by food insecurity.

Mantoumbai, 3 years old, lives in southern DR Congo. He is 71 cm tall and weighs only 5 kg.

“He has always been very thin since his father died,” his mother said, at the health centre where she is seeking treatment for him. “But last week he got malaria, and now I am worried.”

Mantoumbai’s arms and legs appeared fragile, and his breathing was laboured. They had arrived just in time.

UNICEF works to end child malnutrition

UNICEF is the main provider of ready-to-use therapeutic food in DR Congo. Infant and young child feeding practices are also being promoted through health centres, religious groups, community workers and local associations. An early warning system has also been set up to regularly collect data on child nutrition and household food security through a network of 110 sites in Katanga and Kasai Oriental provinces.



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