Malnutrition challenges child survival in Niger, despite recent gains, UNICEF warns
With malnutrition responsible for more than half of all deaths of children under five in Niger – a country where 20 per cent never reach their fifth birthday – the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is warning that recent gains in lowering mortality rates could be lost without consistent funding for aid efforts.
A new survey shows that malnutrition rates among children in Niger have improved significantly over the last year, the agency said, while cautioning that without consistent support for the strategy of managing and preventing malnutrition the situation could deteriorate again.
“The results show that malnutrition can be controlled and prevented with high-impact interventions,” said UNICEF Representative in Niger Akhil Iyer. “The survey brought to light the urgent need for consistent funding and support for a bold strategy for the long term control of malnutrition in children.”
The national nutritional survey revealed that acute malnutrition has fallen from 15.3 per cent in November 2005 to 10.3 per cent the following year. Those results highlight the impact of the large scale ongoing relief effort coordinated by UNICEF in response to the nutrition crisis of 2005.
The agency and its partners treated 382,400 malnourished children in 2006, and expect to treat another 300,000 in 2007.
Children under three years old are disproportionately affected by acute malnutrition, and the practice of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months – proven to be the best way to reduce under-five child mortality – remains at 2.2 per cent, among the lowest in the world.
Based on the results of the survey, UNICEF said it is scaling up the delivery of two essential types of interventions for prevention and care of malnutrition. The first is to treat moderate and severe acute malnutrition in children in nutritional rehabilitation centres, and the second is to prevent malnutrition and curb chronic malnutrition through intervention.
UNICEF is also working to prioritize nutrition in development policies while boosting health, education, family planning, water and sanitation, which are all inextricably linked to child survival.