On the Occasion of the 2022 Karamoja IPC for Acute Malnutrition Report Launch

Remarks delivered by Sacha Westerbeek

09 June 2022
UNICEF, IPC report launch, Uganda, nutrition, malnutrition, Karamoja, RUTF, stunting, wasting, children under five years
UNICEF Uganda/2022

On behalf of UNICEF, I want to extend my appreciation to the Government of Uganda for its leadership in developing and disseminating the 2022 Karamoja IPC Report. The IPC process demonstrates the power of our collective commitment to addressing developmental challenges, especially for women and children. UNICEF is privileged to be a partner in that ongoing effort. 

With the highest levels of poverty and deprivations in Uganda, the children of Karamoja have over the last three years experienced outsized levels of acute malnutrition. These children are dear to all of us, which is demonstrated by today’s gathering to reflect on the food security and nutrition situation in Karamoja and to strengthen our collective efforts to deliver interventions that improve child survival and development. 

A number of interrelated challenges have beset Karamoja, from climate change - which also contributes to the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa - to acute food insecurity, poor food consumption, insecurity and high levels of malaria and diarrhoea. Together, these problems have put the lives of nearly 23,000 severely malnourished children at stake. 

I had the privilege of travelling to Kaabong and Moroto two weeks ago, and from what I heard from government officials, the situation of children is expected to get much, much worse over the next few months. 

Children with severe acute malnutrition are of special concern in situations like what we have in Karamoja. These children are up to 11 times more likely to die than well-nourished children. For those who survive, they may face developmental consequences including stunting that will affect their performance in school and their productive life as adults when they grow up. We know that stunting costs African countries as much as 2 to 16 per cent of their GDPs. 

The good news is that acute malnutrition can be prevented, and if prevention fails, can still be treated through a package of key services. However, in order to marshal those services, we need urgent action and support. 

UNICEF just completed a nutrition mass screening in Moroto and Kaabong, where some 1 in 5 children are malnourished. Integrated outreaches in these two districts have started this week and it is through these outreaches that children will be identified and enrolled in therapeutic care. 

Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine has contributed to soaring food and fuel prices, and UNICEF is warning that the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), which is used to treat malnourished children, may increase by up to 16 per cent in the next six months. This is something we need to anticipate and prepare for. If we don’t, many children could miss out on life-saving support. For thousands in Karamoja, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. 

We must not wait for thousands of children to die before acting. We have said “never again” too many times. We need immediate action to save those who are malnourished, and long-term predictable funding to help these children and their families. In addition to the immediate actions needed to address the current situation, I call upon all partners present here today to commit to the following five interventions:

  1. First, we need to prioritize the nutrition response in Uganda through existing strategies including Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCAN), while mobilizing and engaging communities to promote desired nutrition and feeding behaviours that improve the quality and frequency of children’s diets. 
  2. Second, we need to strengthen integrated Health, WASH, Education, Food, and Social Protection systems to deliver the kinds of nutrition interventions that can prevent wasting and all forms of malnutrition sustainably and at scale. 
  3. Third, we need district health management teams in Karamoja to work with partners to ensure that integrated health and nutrition services will continue to be delivered at facility and community levels, and especially through integrated outreaches in hard-to-reach areas.
  4. Fourth, we need to construct and rehabilitate wells and water catchments for safe water access, while providing WASH supplies in water-stressed communities.
  5. And fifth, we need to develop and implement Karamoja-specific nutrition emergency preparedness and response plans to avert similar emergencies in the future. 

We all realize that the situation in Karamoja is dire and that we cannot afford to waste a moment in our joint response. 

I wish you all successful deliberations and hope the outcome of this meeting will lead to an improved situation for women and children. Malnutrition and high food insecurity are problems we can solve. We have the skills, the tools, the findings from today’s IPC report, and most importantly, we have the support and commitment of all the partners in this room.

Together we can make a difference for every child.

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