Under five malnutrition among the worst in the world [Archives:2008/1199/Front Page]

October 16 2008

By: Jamal Al-Najjar
SANA'A, Oct 15 ) Malnutrition has become a major problem for children in Yemen due to several economic factors affecting the living standards of families, according to Professor Michael Golden, an international expert on nutrition programs, and his assistant Yvonne Grellety.

Golden maintained that efforts should be exerted by the government in order to rescue the lives of children in Yemen. He pointed out that both prevention and treatment should be systematic and based on accurate data and monitoring of the nutritional standards according to WHO standards.

“There should be political commitment and cooperation between all groups of society in order to tackle this problem,” said Golden, noting that a solution to this problem shouldn't be restricted to the Ministry of Health and Population but also include the participation of other ministries and organizations in Yemen.

For his part, Majid Al-Junaid, Deputy Minister of Heath for Primary Health Care, maintained that the issue of malnutrition is limited in the work of the ministry, noting that this issue should be highlighted at the political level in order to receive proper support.

During a recent meeting attended by Yemeni deputy ministers of Health and Population and representatives from UNICEF and Charitable Society for Social Welfare, Golden briefed deputy ministers on the issue of malnutrition noting that the phenomenon is increasing notably in Yemen and maintaining that, unless group efforts are exerted to tackle this problem, the situation will worsen.

He said that manifestations of malnutrition including stunting and wasting in Yemen are amongst the highest in the world. More than 53 percent of children below five years old are stunted, 46 percent are underweight and 12 percent suffer from wasting (weight over height), according to Ministry of Pubic Health's statistics in 2003.

“Malnutrition underlies about half of all deaths among children. This issue is neglected by the Yemeni government which focuses its efforts on other health issues,” said Golden. “Stunting in Yemen is among the highest in the world. Therefore, this issue demands immediate intervention by the government as a whole and not only by Ministry of Health.”

Golden warned that the situation would be aggravated by several factors including price hikes, a global financial crisis and climate change.

“Due to price hikes, poor families can't afford to provide their children with necessary food, especially given that healthy food is expensive,” said Professor Golden. “The assistance that Yemen receives from donors and international organizations will decrease due to the current global financial crisis. This will be reflected on the poor families that benefit from this aid.”

Golden added that that among the factors that worsen child malnutrition in Yemen is climate change which has caused draught in most areas of the world including Yemen.

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Najeb Abdul Baqi, director of Ministry of Heath's malnutrition department, maintained that out of the 15 percent of children who suffer from wasting, three percent are suffering from severe wasting, which is equivalent to starvation.

He stated that this group of children needed special care and medication. “These children have difficulty absorbing food, weakness in the heat and other health problems due to malnutrition,” said Adul Baqi, adding, “As medication goes straight through their system, they have to be admitted into hospital and treated in several stages.”

Thikra Al-Nuzaili, Malnutrition Program officer at UNICEF, said that malnutrition affects all the population, but that it was specifically concerned with its affects on mothers and children below five years old.

“Since Families fail to provide their children with required nutrition, malnutrition will worsen in society,” said Al-Nuzaili, adding, ” Apprehensions are greater with regards to mothers and children below five years old, because these two groups are the most vulnerable in the society,” she added, pointing out that UNICEF has been working since 2005 in cooperation with Ministry of Public Health on a program of management of acute, severe and moderate malnutrition among children.

She said that this program is being carried on three levels. The first is carried out by volunteers in Yemeni society, the second by medical centers in the country's districts, and the third in Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sana'a, Al-Wahdah Hospital in Aden and Yemeni Sweden Hospital in Taiz.

She said that, through this program, UNICEF offers food and proper medication to malnourished children below five years old including ready-to-use food and medicine for free.