Healthy Dose: High Malnutrition Rates Persist in Afghanistan, Says UN Survey

September 5, 2012

Data from a recently release UN survey finds high rates of malnutrition persist in Afghanistan. The Guardian reports:

The Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) found 29.5% of children are suffering from acute malnutrition there. A level of more than 30% among young children is considered one sign of a famine.

The data does not mean there is a famine in the south. Under UN guidelines, child malnutrition is just one of several criteria used to decide if an area is suffering a famine; others include death rates and families’ access to food.

Southern Afghanistan has adequate food supplies, experts say, but a serious problem with nutrition. Some families are too poor to buy supplies while others have little education about how to nourish their children; common illnesses like diarrhoea also sap children’s strength.

A major problem is attitudes to breast feeding, according to UN nutrition specialist Elham Monsef. Women are often told breast milk is not good enough or find it hard to nurse, so infants are given everything from tea and water, which have no nutritional value, to formula milk that is over-diluted or made with dirty water.

Basic health measures now common in most developing countries, such as enriching flour and putting iodine in salt to ensure healthy brain development, are not universal in Afghanistan.


Aid workers admit that although Afghanistan is well known to have chronic malnutrition problems, evidence of an extreme nutrition crisis caught them by surprise. “The numbers are just too serious to ignore,” said Aidan O’Leary, head of the UN office that co-ordinates the humanitarian response to crises in Afghanistan. “It’s very clear that the nutrition response as a whole has to be ramped up.” He added: “This is not a one-off survey, this is a global survey conducted in conjunction with the central statistics office.”

The last such survey was conducted in 2004 and although there has been a rapid escalation of the conflict since then, there has also been a huge increase in aid spending. USAID has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into southern Afghanistan, while the UK earmarked tens of millions more for development work in Helmand.

The UN and aid groups are now racing to gather more details on the scale of the problem, and worst-hit locations.


Global Health and Development Beat

Ebola – The Ebola outbreak is coming to an end in Uganda but remains a problem in neighboring DRC.

Women’s Rights – A law aimed at protecting women in the workplace, the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, was passed by the lower house in India.

Family PlanningCNN summarizes the 14 year debate in the Philippines over the issue of legislation for birth control.

Tobacco – Research on people trying to quit smoking found that there were higher success rates among those who use anti-smoking aids.

MalnutritionFailed policies are at the heart of Zimbabwe’s food crisis.


The Players

World Bank – A pledging conference of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen netted $6.4 billion in pledges; Saudi Arabia was the largest donor, committing $3.25 billion.

USAID – As a part of the announcement, pledged to double its aid to Yemen.

UN – Says 100,000 refugees fled from their country during the month of August.

UN – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to call attention to the “grave and deteriorating” humanitarian situation in Syria on Tuesday.


Buzzing in the Blogs

Alpha Kamara reflects on bringing attention to the cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone for AlertNet.

The local radio programme Leh Wi Tok – ‘Let’s Talk’ in Krio – broadcast on the outbreak in Kambia, covering the causes of the disease, and asking what the Ministry of Health was doing to respond. The programme, which aims to give local people a voice and hold authorities to account, broke the silence around the outbreak and there was a dramatic response.

Red Cross volunteers embarked on a door to door sensitisation on the causes of cholera and how it can be treated. A local community based organisation that works on children’s welfare chlorinated over 100 water wells. And Health Alert, a health advocacy organisation, lobbied the authorities to act fast and save lives.

Above all, the Kambia District Council summoned an emergency meeting to find ways of combating the outbreak and finally disbursed funds for drugs to treat patients.

Within a week the frequency of cholera cases fell, and District Medical Officer, Dr Tom Sesay, thanked the media for what he called the “timely intervention” that forced the Council to release funds to combat the outbreak. “Now we have enough to respond to any other emergency,” he added.

Five months later, the outbreak is nationwide and the response by the media, the government and donors is growing. Kambia is faring better while other areas are suffering, partly thanks to the radio station’s coverage of the outbreak early on.

Covering the outbreak didn’t cause panic as the authorities feared. The station was able to give people access to lifesaving information, and this continues through a daily jingle produced by the radio staff on cholera prevention. Not only that, but the station helped to hold the authorities to account and encouraged them to find money to tackle the outbreak. In many parts of Sierra Leone, the population relies almost completely on radio for news and information. Radio Kolenten really lived up to the title of community radio by covering the outbreak and breaking the deadly silence around it.


Capital Events


2:00 PM – The Melodrama of Conflict and the Tragedy of Resolution: Work with the genre of conflict narratives – GMU

7:00 PM – Interventions: A Life in War and Peace w/ Kofi Annan – Politics & Prose


8:30 AM – Infrastructure and Business Opportunities in North Africa – National Council on US-Arab Relations

11:00 AM – Sebastian Junger’s War and the Laws of War – American Red Cross

*3:00 PM – Policy Implications of The Lancet MSM and HIV Series – CSIS

4:00 PM – The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Its Impact on Human Rights – AU Law


9:30 AM – Kenya’s Momentous Year Ahead: A Conversation with Willy Mutunga Chief Justice of the Kenyan Supreme Court – CSIS


By Mark Leon Goldberg and Tom Murphy

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