West and Central Africa: More than 15 million expected cases of acute malnutrition in 2020

Date: 
July, 2020

15.4 million cases1 of acute malnutrition in children under five years old are expected in 2020 in West and Central Africa one third of them from its most severe form – if adequate measures are not put in place now, warned the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). This represents a 20 per cent increase from earlier estimates, in January 2020, according to an analysis of the combined impact of food insecurity and covid_19 on acute malnutrition in 19 countries of the region.

Conflict and armed violence have led to massive population displacements and drastically limited access to basic social services, leading child malnutrition to increase to unprecedented levels. The coronavirus disease is exacerbating fragile contexts in West and Central Africa, such as in the Sahel region across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, which were already stricken with food insecurity and malnutrition. Before the covid_19 pandemic, 4.5 million cases were anticipated to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2020, in these 6 countries. Today, with growing insecurity and covid_19, that number has jumped to almost 5.4 million.

“Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are at higher risk of covid_19 related complications. Whereas, good nutrition for children, starting from their early days, protects them against illnesses and infections, and supports their recovery when they become ill,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Ensuring the continuity of preventive and lifesaving health and nutrition services, building shock-responsive social protection systems, protecting livelihoods and supporting families’ access to water, hygiene and healthy food are critical for child survival and long-term development.”

Several factors threaten the nutritional status of children under five in West and Central Africa. These include household food insecurity, poor maternal nutrition and infant feeding practices, conflicts and armed violence, population displacement, high levels of childhood illnesses and water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, fragile health systems, poor access to clean water and sanitation, and chronic poverty.

Adding to these malnutrition aggravating factors, covid_19 pandemic containment measures have led to disruptions in food production and distribution, in health and humanitarian supply chains, as well as a slowdown of economic activities. The pandemic has had indirect negative impacts on food systems, households’ income and food security, and the provision of treatment against malnutrition. This makes it more difficult for populations to maintain healthy diets, optimal infant and young child feeding practices, and hinders their access to essential nutrition services.

“Thousands of families will be unable to provide their children with the nutritious food needed for their proper growth and development,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “We must work together to improve access to nutritious foods and ensure that there are strong preventive actions that protect children from falling into the vicious trap of malnutrition and sickness.”

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