The United Nations United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has issued a warning that West and Central Africa may experience an unprecedented impact of food insecurity and COVID-19 on child malnutrition
The joint press statement by the UN agemcies call for action on the deteriorating nutrition situation of children in the context of COVID-19 in West and Central Africa, especially in Sahel countries where 15.4 million cases of acute malnutrition in children under five years old are expected in 2020.
The figure 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.
The analysis also showed that Conflict and armed violence have led to massive population displacements and drastically limited access to basic social services, resulting in an unprecedented increase in child malnutrition.
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, noted that 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.
“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,” explained
Similarly, Chris Nikoi, WFP Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said several factors such as 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 threaten the nutritional status of children under age five in West and Central Africa.
Adding COVID-19 pandemic and other malnutrition aggravating factors affecting containment measures have led to disruptions in food production and distribution, in health and humanitarian supply chains, as well as a slow-down of economic activities.
The pandemic according to Nikki 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.
“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,” stressed Nikoi
WFP and UNICEF are working with governments and partners to ensure the continuation of essential services. Together, they deliver an integrated package of care focused on the prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition and empower communities for the provision of basic services.
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