Acute malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women has increased by 25 percent in the past two years in the 12 countries hardest hit by rising food prices sparked by the fighting in Ukraine, according to a new United Nations (UN) report.
Surveys in 10 countries in Africa and two in the Middle East that have been worst affected by the food crisis are used in the UNICEF report, which was released Tuesday (7/3), the day before International Women’s Day.
Poor nutrition in pregnant and lactating women can lead to weak immunity and complications during pregnancy and birth. Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa in previous studies have recorded high infant mortality rates due to various complications.
Globally, 51 million children under the age of two are too short for their age due to malnutrition, a condition called stunting, and half of them are stunted during pregnancy or in their first six months of life, said the report.
“Without urgent action from the international community, the consequences could last for generations to come,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
Affected girls and women have increased from 5.5 million in 2020 to 6.9 million in 2022 in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, according to the report.
UNICEF recommends increasing nutrition assistance and providing fortification of widely consumed staple foods such as flour, cooking oil and salt to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.
Ensuring that pregnant and lactating women have access to nutrition and supplement services is also recommended in the report.
Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa have high rates of teenage pregnancy and low attendance at prenatal clinics.
Faith Kanini, 28, who lives in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told the Associated Press that she doesn’t have enough money for visits to prenatal clinics despite recommendations.
“I pay cash for several clinics I have attended. It is costly for me and I cannot pay my NHIF (state health) insurance monthly premiums because I am unemployed and my life depends on friends and family,” the mother-to-be said in a telephone interview.
Women in poorer households are twice as likely to be underweight than women from the wealthiest households, according to a UNICEF report.
“South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa remain the epicenter of the nutrition crisis among girls and women, home to two in three underweight girls and women globally, and three in five girls and women with anemia,” added the report. [ab/uh]
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