UNICEF fears hunger in Malawi, embarks on mass screening for malnutrition across country
LILONGWE, Malawi 15 December 2015 – As Malawi struggles to cope with drought and the first maize deficit in a decade, UNICEF is carrying out a mass screening for malnutrition in children under five across 25 districts – 90 per cent of the country. The response comes as reports from communities and villages indicate an increasing food shortage and hunger problem in the country.
“We want to make sure that every child suffering from malnutrition gets access to life-saving treatment,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Country Representative. “Although official figures are saying that malnutrition cases are not increasing, we know from past experience that this may not be the whole story. Hungry, desperate families may not have the means or resources to take sick children to be assessed. This mass screening, will bring the services to them, to ensure no child is left out.”
The mass screening comes after a recent Vulnerability Assessment, which revealed 2.8 million people in Malawi are in need of urgent food aid. UNICEF’s concerns come as the country faces a combination of challenges including food shortages, El Nino weather patterns, recovery from floods, a stagnant economy and a prolonged drought.
“Even if the rains are sufficient this growing season, families will still have to wait until March or April before the first crops are harvested. That is a further four months of food insecurity, when young children are at increased risk from disease or even death. As UNICEF we have to ensure that those children are seen, screened and if necessary treated for severe or moderate malnutrition,” said Mdoe.
Currently, the malnutrition screening and treatment programme in Malawi is available in over 90% of districts but only 50 percent of the expected number of children are being seen and treated. The mass screening for malnourished children is supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and is one of several emergency response activities in the country, including food ration distribution supported by the World Food Programme.
Despite the food shortage, malnutrition figures coming from the districts are showing a stable trend, with the exception of the flood hit districts of Chikwawa, Phalombe and Nsanje who recorded an increase of cases in the past 3 months. Traditionally as the ‘lean season’ reaches its peak in February – March, these figures are likely to substantially increase.
Across parts of eastern and southern Africa, two back-to-back seasons of poor or non-existent rainfall, exacerbated by a strengthening El Niño weather phenomenon, are putting children at risk of hunger, lack of water and disease.
In Ethiopia, over 10 million people are currently estimated to be food insecure, with projections indicating that this could rise to 15 million in 2016 and that 350,000 children could need treatment for severe acute malnutrition next year.
In Somalia, around 855,000 people are in Crisis and Emergency phases of food insecurity with almost 70 per cent of those affected displaced by conflict within the country’s borders.
In Zimbabwe, numbers of food insecure people are expected to triple by the time of the lean season in January to March 2016, peaking at 1.5 million
The country-wide screening in Malawi takes place as COP21 talks come to close in Paris. Children suffering in Malawi and across parts of eastern and southern Africa due to climate-related droughts and floods must be put at the forefront of discussions in the final hours of the talks.
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Notes on the malnutrition situation
Malawi adopted the community management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) approach in 2002 as the most effective way of treating malnutrition in young children. The CMAM approach focuses on prevention at community level through raising awareness on malnutrition, screening all children and treating identified malnutrition cases using therapeutic milk and foods.
In Malawi, severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in the under-five malnutrition population is around 4 percent, although there are discrepancies across the country, with the flood affected districts in the south currently showing much higher rates. Without treatment, severe acute malnutrition can be fatal for young children.
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