HIGH MORTALITY RATE WARNING

Unicef raises red flag over increased child malnutrition due to Covid-19

'We cannot allow children to be the overlooked victims of the Covid-19 pandemic'

In Summary

• One in every five children below five years in Kenya is severely malnourished, according to the 2020 Global Childhood report.

• Fear of infection and lack of protective equipment for health workers has seen admissions to treat severe wasting in Kenya drop by 40 per cent.

Pupils in an open-air class at Manera Primary School, Homa Bay. Covid-19 has adversely affected children's health.
FOOD INSECURE: Pupils in an open-air class at Manera Primary School, Homa Bay. Covid-19 has adversely affected children's health.
Image: FILE

A United Nations agency has warned of increased levels of malnutrition among children under five years due to adverse socioeconomic effects of Covid-19.

The United Nations International Children's Fund says the disruption of essential nutrition services and supply chains has raised food prices, resulting in the quality of children’s diets going down.

Currently, one in every five children below five years in Kenya is severely malnourished, according to the 2020 Global Childhood report. The mortality rate in that age group is 41 per cent.

Unicef says that the disruption will result in more children suffering from wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition that puts more of them at the  risk of death, poor growth, development and learning.

Its reports from the early months of the pandemic indicate that fear of infection and lack of protective equipment for health workers has plummeted admissions to treat severe wasting in Kenya by 40 per cent.

Between February and May, 370,000 children needed to be treated for acute malnutrition.  

“It is seven months since Covid-19 cases were reported and it is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself,” Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said in a press statement on Tuesday.

Globally, 47 million children were already wasted in 2019 and without urgent action, the number could soar to over 54 million in the course of the year, the Unicef boss cautioned.

“This would bring global wasting to levels not seen this millennium,” Fore said.

Even with a projected rise in the rates, UN agencies say that child malnutrition is only a tip of the iceberg.

“Covid-19 will also increase other forms of malnutrition in children and women, including stunting, micro-nutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity as a result of poorer diets and the disruption of nutrition services,” Unicef says.

An analysis by The Lancet shows that wasting among children under the age of five will increase by 14.3 per cent this year due to the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19.

Disruptions in vitamin A supplementation, treatment of severe wasting,  promotion of improved young child feeding and the provision of micro-nutrient supplements to pregnant women are at the centre of the projection.

Humanitarian agencies want the government and the private sector to protect children’s right to nutrition by safeguarding access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets as a cornerstone of the response to Covid-19.

Unicef has also called for accelerated action to prevent and treat malnutrition caused by the pandemic.

“We cannot allow children to be the overlooked victims of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Fore said.