Nearly one million children under 5 in the central Sahel facing severe wasting in 2023 – UNICEF
DAKAR, 7 April 2023 – An estimated 970,000 children under 5 from West Africa’s three central Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) will face severe wasting this year as families deal with high food prices, conflict and climate change, according to new data gathered by UNICEF.
Niger faces the highest severe wasting burden in the central Sahel, with a forecast of 430,000 children this year. This forecast is 60,000 fewer than in 2022 thanks to a strong response in Niger by the government, UNICEF and partners. In Mali, severe wasting is forecast to rise by 18.4 per cent to 367,000 girls and boys, up from last year’s 309,000.
Most countries in the wider Sahel and neighbouring countries affected by the spillover of insecurity are forecasting a rise in severe wasting this year despite good harvests, according to the recent analysis. Recent data from nutrition surveys and other sources show an increase in the prevalence of child wasting in parts of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Togo.
Overall, across nine countries in the Sahel (Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, northern Nigeria and Senegal), health facility admissions for severe wasting in 2022 increased by 31 per cent, equivalent to 1.9 million children compared with 2021 and compared with the previous three-year average. In addition, the increase in food insecurity and food prices further affect the quality of diets of young children in the Sahel, where already 82 per cent of young children (6-23 months) face a situation of food poverty, meaning they are not being fed the minimum diet they need to thrive.
“Every child should receive a nutritious diet,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier. “Ensuring good nutrition during childhood is a key pillar of long-term prosperity. We have a collective responsibility to put children’s needs of good nutrition at the heart of our food, health and social protection systems.”
“Growing insecurity and conflict means vulnerability is increasing in the region, and it is getting harder to help communities in isolated areas. We are supporting governments to strengthen health systems at the facility and community level to successfully detect and treat malnutrition, while putting the focus on prevention.”
UNICEF is scaling up the prevention, early detection and treatment of child wasting, especially in areas of high need and in hard-to-reach areas affected by insecurity.
Combatting malnutrition requires a combined approach across several sectors including nutrition, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene. UNICEF also supports social protection systems, combining cash transfers with services that improve food security and facilitate access to better and more diverse diets for children.
In regions where the health system is affected by insecurity, UNICEF is strengthening work with local actors to reach children through innovative mobile approaches. In 2022, UNICEF’s support allowed to train more than 150,000 mothers/caretakers in the central Sahel on the early detection of child wasting using the Middle Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tapes, thereby strengthening the capacities of the communities to recognize and address child wasting in a timely manner.
In Burkina Faso, more than 10,000 children were reached with optimal treatment for acute malnutrition in 2022 through mobile/advanced strategies (including 2,400 children who received the simplified treatment protocol) in areas with reduced access to health services due to insecurity.
With fewer than ten years remaining to reach Sustainable Development Goal targets (notably SDG 2), UNICEF is calling on governments and partners to urgently step up efforts by:
- Putting child nutrition high on national priority agendas, especially in African countries most affected by the food and nutrition crisis. This involves mobilizing the food, health, WASH and social protection systems to deliver nutritious diets, essential nutrition services and positive nutrition practices to every vulnerable child, adolescent and woman to prevent malnutrition in the first place.
- Increasing national investments in the early prevention, detection and treatment of child malnutrition and leveraging new and more sustainable financing opportunities.
- Pursuing solutions that build resilience. This includes ensuring better alignment between humanitarian and development efforts to address immediate needs, future risks and vulnerability to crisis, with a strong focus on the impacts of climate change.
- Ensuring food systems deliver affordable and nutritious foods to families with young children. This includes incentivizing the local production and transformation of healthy foods for young children, and implementing national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy foods.
 Regional System for Food Crisis Prevention and Management (PREGEC) analysis, March 2023.
UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in West and Central Africa, visit https://www.unicef.org/wca.