The Government of Niger needs international support to curb alarming levels of child malnutrition, as well as deal with its underlying causes, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The agency said in a news release issued on Wednesday that more than 15 children in 100 suffer from acute malnutrition, as shown by the National Nutrition Survey that was released this month.
The prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) among children under five years old in Niger is back to the same levels experienced in June 2009 – 12.3 per cent – registering a decrease of more than three points (16.7 per cent) from the previous survey conducted last November.
“The nutritional status nevertheless remains above the emergency threshold of 10 per cent for seven of the country’s eight regions,” UNICEF stated.
The survey found that children aged six to 23 months account for a large share of the nutritional burden with one in five children affected by GAM and 4.2 per cent of them by severe acute malnutrition (SAM), the most severe form of malnutrition.
UNICEF said that these figures have dropped comparing to June 2010 but remain well above those that prevailed in June 2009 before a serious food and nutrition crisis struck the nation.
The survey revealed “unacceptably high” rates of chronic malnutrition for all age groups which follow an upward trend having registered an increase by five points to 51 per cent in June 2011.
“The prevalence of this form of malnutrition, harmful to the psychological development of children, illustrates the cumulative effects of recurrent episodes of malnutrition in children and reveals the urgency to act upstream to address the disease by offering children a healthy diet soon after birth,” UNICEF stated.
Malnutrition has enormous consequences: morbidity and mortality increase, poor educational achievements and lower productivity, according to Dr. Maimouna Guéro, nutrition director at the Ministry of Public Health in Niger.
She advocates practices such as exclusive breastfeeding within the first hour of the child’s birth and up to six months, which UNICEF pointed out is a “free, cheap and effective” way to give children a good start in life.
Only 27 per cent of Niger’s mothers exclusively breastfeed their children up to six months, according to the latest child survival survey conducted in 2010.