For the Sahel. For Every Child.
It’s not easy to be a child in the Sahel.
In this region, childhood is full of risks and threats.
Many essential services are simply not available.
Africa's Sahel Region
It is a semi-arid climatic region along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert covering approximately 3,053 million km2, stretching from the Atlantic coast in the west, to the Red Sea in the east.
Malnutrition, especially undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, is one of the many challenges children face in an already fragile region.
With conflicts, the socioeconomic crisis, and the impact of climate change, the Sahel is a region of high vulnerability where food insecurity is a chronical issue. COVID-19, the negative impacts of the war in Ukraine and protracted conflicts in the region make everything worse, with malnutrition hotspot areas growing in size and intensity.
We need to adapt and re-imagine our existing nutrition programmes to make sure that every mother and child has access to affordable healthy diets and essential services now, and in the future. To achieve this, we need sustainable commitments and resources to scale up efforts and implement what we know works for the prevention, early detection and treatment of undernutrition.
The Sahel region is full of opportunities, and the population has a strong resilience, but needs support. Only by working together and making the right investments we can break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition and ensure that Sahelian children have the chance to survive now and thrive in the future.
Reconsidering malnutrition in the Sahel
A malnourished child in the Sahel is not just the image of a dangerously thin child who isn’t getting enough to eat. The vast majority of children in the region are affected by at least 3 different forms of malnutrition – wasting, stunting and micronutrient deficiencies.
To prevent wasting and stunting we need to ensure that children can benefit from affordable nutritious and safe diets, and positive feeding and care practices. Both mothers and children need to have access to affordable nutritious and safe diets so babies can be born at a healthy weight and continue to thrive throughout childhood.
Here is Djamila’s story. If we work together, differently, and make the right investments, it could be the story of every child in the Sahel.
We must act now to help the Sahel recover.
Investing in nutrition well-being and closing the funding gaps will enable UNICEF and partners to strengthen priority systems to deliver for children. The time for taking action is now, and we have solutions.
PREVENTION OF MALNUTRITION IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
Promote early initiation of breastfeeding in primary health care, exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, and then continued breastfeeding up to two years.
Support governments with a legal framework and on-the-ground interventions to ban inappropriate promotion and distribution of breastmilk substitutes, and to support healthy food production.
Complementary food and feeding (6-23 months)
Support families with information/solutions for healthy and safe diets for their young children.
Promote access to affordable nutritious complementary foods produced and transformed locally.
Ensure the continuity of essential nutrition services for young children through food, health, social protection, and water and sanitation systems. Support governments with a legal framework and on-the-ground interventions to support healthy food production.
Micronutrient supplementation and fortified foods
Adapt delivery platforms for Vitamin A supplementation, including via routine health system contacts and child health days. Provide vitamin and mineral supplementation to women of reproductive age and pregnant and lactating mothers.
UNICEF encourages meaningful participation and leadership of local actors, so they are part of the solution while ensuring accountability and sustainability of every initiative. For example, small and medium enterprises have a great potential in the production of local complementary foods for children over 6 months.
EARLY DETECTION AND TREATMENT OF LIFE-THREATENING MALNUTRITION IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
Early detection of wasting
Intensify efforts to strengthen the capacity of mothers, caregivers and community actors to detect and monitor their children’s nutritional status. Empowering mothers is key to tackle undernutrition.
Treatment of wasting
Scale-up simplified approaches to the treatment of wasting to allow the most vulnerable children living in the most inaccessible areas access treatment. While simplified treatment protocols result in recovery rates as good as those of standard protocols, simplifications also reinforce community resilience, putting mothers, caregivers and community workers at the forefront of the fight against wasting.
UNICEF’s Nutrition strategy 2020-2030 offers a comprehensive and purposeful framework to steer our collective efforts over the next decade. Guided by key Strategies such as 1st Food and No Time to Waste, our approach to scale up prevention, early detection and treatment of stunting and wasting for the most vulnerable children: the youngest of the young, the poorest of the poor, and those left behind by humanitarian crises.
Nutrition is a lifelong issue
The effects of poor nutrition start in the womb, but continue into adulthood, and cycle across generations. While malnutrition can trap generations of children in a cycle of poverty, good nutrition, particularly in infancy, is the building block for future health and development. A lifecycle approach to nutrition programming ensures that we target nutrition programmes to the key moments in a person’s life.
A systems approach to nutrition programming
UNICEF nutrition programming is grounded in a systems-strengthening approach.
This approach activates 5 key systems that have the potential to deliver critical interventions at scale and impact on nutrition programmes; Food, Health, Water and Sanitation, Education, Social Protection.
Improving nutrition for children, adolescents and women requires strategic multi-sector partnerships on many levels. These partnerships enable us to share resources, responsibilities and risks to achieve our vision of realizing the right to adequate nutrition for every child.
We must invest in Nutrition Now!
To ensure every child in the Sahel has access to essential nutrition programmes, we need to close the funding gaps.
We want to take full advantage of this opportunity to ensure that every mother and child in the Sahel has the chance of a better future.
Together we can safeguard the progress that has been made, and build better, more resilient nutrition programmes to achieve our commitments to children – helping them to survive and thrive.
For more information on UNICEF Partnerships in West and Central Africa, please contact:
Valérie Taton, Regional Partnerships Adviser, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on UNICEF Nutrition programmes in West and Central Africa, please contact:
Siméon Nanama, UNICEF Regional Nutrition Adviser, email@example.com
This publication provides an overview of the nutrition situation in the Sahel, the current challenges and how UNICEF and partners can take action to shift the paradigm and focus on scaling interventions to prevent malnutrition.