Date Published: 23 March 2007
Despite progress, malnutrition still a major challenge to child survival in Niger
Malnutrition rates among children in Niger have improved significantly over the last year, according to a new survey, but the gains could be lost without consistent funding and support to a bold cross-sectoral strategy combining malnutrition management and prevention.
The national nutritional survey reveals that the proportion of children wasted – or suffering from acute malnutrition has fallen from 15.3% in November 2005 to 10.3% in November 2006.
Those results are indicative of the impact of the large scale ongoing relief effort coordinated by UNICEF in response to the nutrition crisis revealed during the food crisis Niger faced in 2005.
“ The results show that malnutrition can be controlled and prevented with high impact interventions packages” said Akhil Iyer, UNICEF Representative in Niger.
The survey conducted at the end of the 2006 lean season provides vital information to monitor the situation and adjust strategies for control and prevention of malnutrition in children under five years of age.
It indicates clear positive trends such as:
- The drop of global acute malnutrition under the emergency threshold of 15%.
- The regions that were the most hardly hit by the 2005 food crisis and had the highest rate of acute malnutrition in 2005 registered the most significant drop in acute malnutrition. They are the regions where the safety net of nutritional rehabilitation centers put in place by UNICEF-supported NGOS is the most important. In Maradi and Zinder, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition has respectively fallen from 16% and 16.1% in November 2005 to 6.8% and 9.7% in November 2006, that is below the severity threshold (>10%).
However, a series of different findings shows a need for continued and bold action:
- Children under three years old are disproportionately affected by acute malnutrition. The proportion of global acute malnutrition in children under three years old is still at a troubling 14.9%, close to the emergency threshold (>15%).
- In 5 out of 8 regions of the country, global acute malnutrition remains very high with rates above 10% (Agadez, Diffa, Dosso, Tahoua, Tillaberi).
- Almost one in two children under five is stunted: levels of chronic malnutrition are still very high, at 43.8%, despite progress registered over the last year.
- The practice of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months – proven to be the highest impact public health intervention on under 5 child mortality reduction - remains at 2.2%, among the lowest in the world.
- In three regions (Agadez, Dosso, and Zinder), the prevalence of severe acute malnutrition has increased over the last year. In Agadez, so has the prevalence of global acute malnutrition in children under 5 years old: from 11.8 in 2005 it is now at 12.5%.
Based on the results of the survey, UNICEF is aiming at scaling up the delivery of two essential packages of high-impact interventions for prevention and care of malnutrition through both facility and community-based approaches:
- To treat moderate and severe acute malnutrition in children in outpatient and inpatient nutritional rehabilitation centers.
- To prevent malnutrition and curb chronic malnutrition through a set of essential intervention in nutrition, such as improved breastfeeding practice, age-appropriate foods and feeding practice for toddlers, vitamin A supplementation and deworming, measles vaccination and the provision of insecticide treated nets against malaria, hand washing and oral rehydration salt promotion, control of anemia and malnutrition in pregnant and lactating women and support to household food security.
According to a profile study conducted by a group of experts, UNICEF and other UN agencies, more than 59.3% of under five child deaths are associated with malnutrition, in Niger.
“ The child survival challenge is largely associated to the child nutrition challenge, in Niger” says Iyer. “The survey brought to light the urgent need for consistent funding and support to a bold strategy for the long term control of malnutrition in children”.
For UNICEF, it is crucial to prioritize nutrition in development policies while working simultaneously across sectors (health, education, family planning, water and sanitation) to improve access to essential services that are inextricably linked to child survival.
“ In Niger, as is the case across the Sahel region, progress in nutrition in children is instrumental to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals” said Iyer.