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COVID-19 and the Risks to the Nutritional outcomes of Children and Women in Eastern and Southern Africa

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A Joint Call to Protect the Nutritional Status of the Most Vulnerable Women and Children across Eastern and Southern Africa from the effects of COVID-19

1. Background

COVID-19 is affecting every country in the world, with a confirmed caseload of 15 million and a death toll of more than 617,254 . The necessary efforts to control the virus and stem the rate of infection have resulted in major economic losses for countries and significantly increased levels of poverty.
COVID-19 arrives at a time of unprecedented global need, with a record 168 million people already requiring humanitarian assistance at the beginning of this year. The latest edition2 of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. Based on the global economic outlooks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report suggests that the number of undernourished people could increase by an additional 83 to 132 million. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthy balanced diets that are age appropriate. According to the most recent estimates3 of maternal and child malnutrition, 154 million women of reproductive age are underweight, 144 million of children under 5 suffer from stunting, and 47 million of children under 5 suffer from wasting. The hungry are most numerous in Asia but in percentage terms, Africa is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 percent of its people undernourished.4 , with high burdens of malnutrition in its multiple forms including stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies. On current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry.
Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) continues to be the region most affected by HIV globally with approximately 20.7 million people living with HIV (PLHIV)5 with women and adolescent girls most affected by the epidemic. During emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, HIV-related risks and vulnerabilities may be increased due to the loss of livelihoods; disruption of health services, family and social networks. Worsening of food and nutrition security may also undermine effective treatment outcomes for this population group. 1 The region also hosts 4.6 million refugees, asylum seekers and 8.1 million internally displaced person (IDPs) as a result of on-going conflicts, insecurity and climatic shocks. They are heavily dependent on humanitarian food assistance to meet their minimum food and nutrition needs, but funding shortfalls have forced serious ration cuts in food assistance to refugee populations in the region, including in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. The food ration cuts of 10-30% of the recommended 2100 kcal/p/d is affecting over 3.2 million or (72%) of total refugee population in the region.