UNICEF: Urgent action needed to prevent child deaths from malnutrition in Central African Republic

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BANGUI, Central African Republic, 24 December 2013 – Officials in UNICEF Bangui today expressed  ‘extreme concern’ that recent waves of violence in the Central African Republic will cause a sharp increase in children suffering severe malnutrition, putting their lives and future health at risk.

In the last two weeks, over 200,000 people in the capital Bangui alone have fled their homes, many of them children.

Before violence erupted in the capital on 5 December, almost 1,000 children were under treatment for severe acute malnutrition in the capital. Now, only eight out of 15 nutrition centres are operating in Bangui.

“Roughly half of the children have now resumed treatment, which in itself is remarkable, considering the current situation, with children and families scattered in more than 40 displacement sites,” said UNICEF nutrition specialist Bonaventure Muhimfura. “But, we have to do more. It is crucial to re-open the remaining nutrition centres as soon as possible, to save children’s lives.”

While over 400 children have now resumed treatment for severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF expects a significant rise in the number of admissions to nutrition centres in the coming weeks. Internally displaced people will quite likely emerge from hiding in the bush in an enfeebled state due to limited access to food supplies, safe water, hygiene and basic health services.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, about 1.3 million people, or more than 40 per cent of the country’s rural population, are now in need of urgent assistance – nearly double the estimated level in February 2013. Crop production has decreased sharply due to conflict, and food insecurity will have a serious impact on the nutrition status of children and women.

“We need to increase our capacity to respond to needs in displacement sites and to make sure that nutrition services which still operate upcountry have the means to continue providing life-saving treatment,” said Muhimfura.

In the last week, UNICEF brought in 173 tonnes of emergency supplies to scale-up emergency intervention in the Central African Republic. UNICEF is the main provider of nutritional supplies such as therapeutic milk and ready-to-use therapeutic food used in the treatment of paediatric malnutrition.

At the UNICEF-supported Paediatric Hospital in Bangui, where the French NGO Action Contre la Faim operates, 68 children have already been admitted with only 54 beds available. Under-nutrition in children makes them especially vulnerable to disease and infection and 80% of those who have been admitted had malaria.

Since the beginning of 2013, the Central African Republic established a system for management of cases of severe acute malnutrition, with 123 outpatient and inpatient nutrition centres country-wide, which have provided treatment to 12,447 severely malnourished children.

Following recent events in Bangui and in-country, mobile clinics are being organized to screen children at displacement sites in Bangui and to identify those who have abandoned their treatment in order to offer them the urgent care they need.

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