Over 1.3 million children under 5 are expected to receive treatment for severe acute malnutrition across six countries within Africa’s Sahel region: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
This is the highest number in at least a decade, with a 50% increase in severely malnourished children since 2017.
UNICEF initially predicted that up to 1.6 million children across the Sahel were at risk of severe acute malnutrition. The agency dramatically increased its response in the area to deliver lifesaving support with help from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and partners.
Marie-Pierre Poirier, Regional Director for West and Central Africa, UNICEF commented:
“Malnutrition silently stalks children across the Sahel, and 2018 has been particularly severe”
“We have been able to deliver the supplies and medicines these children need to survive, but equally important are investments in preventive measures and early detection to stop children from getting sick in the first place. This was the shift we implemented this year and it produced encouraging results”
Malnutrition has reached chronic level in the Sahel because of a combination of factors, such as: land degradation, drought, poverty, population growth and limited access to basic food supplies.
The Sahel often experiences severe acute malnutrition during its lean season when food becomes scarce and disease prevalence increases. However, this year the spike has been dramatic due to insufficient rains, high food costs, conflict and insecurity.
Marie-Pierre Poirier, added:
“When children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they are more vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and waterborne diseases”
“And likewise, if they are fighting off an illness, they are at greater risk of becoming malnourished. That is why it is also essential to prevent the spread of disease, increase access to adequate sanitation, and promote optimal infant and young child feeding practices.”
UNICEF is working with governments in the Sahel to prevent malnutrition by promoting good feeding practices, improved health services, and use of local food resources.
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Image credit: UNICEF