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World Food Day: Protecting children from malnutrition

© UNICEF/ HQ06-0242/Andrew Heavens
A mother cradles her undernourished child at the UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre at Gode town in the drought-ravaged Somali Region, Ethiopia.

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, 16 October 2006 – On World Food Day today, UNICEF is calling attention to the scourge of undernutrition that contributes to nearly half of all child deaths each year.

“Children who are malnourished are much more susceptible to life-threatening diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoeal infections,” says UNICEF’s Advisor on Nutrition in Acute Emergencies, Tanya Khara. “It translates to a higher risk of death.”

An estimated 10 per cent of children under five in the developing world suffer from acute undernutrition. New evidence shows that the majority of undernourished children can be treated effectively if the problem is detected early. This involves teaching parents how to identify the problem and providing them with the proper tools for treatment.

© UNICEF/ HQ05-1045/Radhika Chalasani
Women, some carrying their babies, wait to buy millet at a cereal bank, in the village of Tsaki in Maradi, Niger. UNICEF purchases the grain and provides it to villagers at highly subsidized prices.

Multi-faceted disease

"Undernutrition is a disease of poverty and social exclusion, unhealthy environments and poor access to vital services,” notes Ms. Khara. “Tackling it is a huge task that requires action across all sectors.”

Among other strategies, UNICEF helps malnourished children recover by supplying high-energy, ready-to-use nutritional supplements. These life-saving foods are easy for undernourished children to digest and can be administered in the home.

In addition to these treatments, preventive measures are vital to combating the cycle of malnutrition.

© UNICEF video
Do Thi Tuyen (centre), an assistant doctor at the Chieng Khoa Health Centre in Viet Nam, teaches a class on nutrition to mothers.

Addressing root causes

UNICEF has been working with partners and communities around the world to treat the root causes of undernutrition. In Viet Nam, for example, a monthly health campaign ensures that children in remote villages are immunized and receive vitamin A supplements. At the same time, their mothers learn about beneficial feeding practices and nutrition.

UNICEF also promotes exclusive breastfeeding of children for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding for the next two years or more – a low-cost way to ensure a child’s continued health and well being.

A major aspect of prevention programmes is to encourage localized production of high-energy nutritional supplements. And in some places – notably Niger – community-run cereal banks provide families with affordable and accessible grain. In a country under threat of a continuing food crisis, this strategy helps communities cope during the lean season and ultimately protects children from undernutrition.

Providing better access to food, promoting exclusive breastfeeding and improving health care are just some of the interventions that can be used to put a stop to undernutrition and preventable child deaths once and for all.




13 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on efforts to treat and protect children from undernutrition, which contributes to nearly half of all child deaths every year.
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