Malnutrition cases continue to rise: UN  

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Sindiso Mhophe

ZIMBABWE has recorded a sharp increase in pellagra cases, with 1 061 registered between January and June 2020 compared to 440 over the same period last year.
Pellagra is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin niacin and if left untreated, can cause death.
In its latest situation report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said the increasing cases of malnutrition were a result of recurring droughts and an unforgiving socio-economic crisis in the country.
“The number of pellagra cases has continued to increase in Zimbabwe in June.
“As per routine data, 1 061 pellagra cases were recorded between January to June 2020, more than double compared to the 440 cases over the same period last year.
“Following increases from 86 pellagra cases in March to 141 cases in April and 220 in May, 230 cases were reported for June 2020.
“The number of cases is likely to continue increasing as food insecurity in the country deepens and household income for accessing diversified diets continues to be depleted by the economic crisis.
“Due to the drought-induced food insecurity, the majority of households in the country require food assistance to facilitate adequate dietary intake and prevent deterioration of the nutrition status of children, women and the general community.
“Already nationally 56 percent of women consume less than five groups of recommended foods,” Ocha said.
This comes as over eight million people in the country are currently food insecure owing to the economic woes being worsened by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The humanitarian office further indicated that there was an improvement in the number of children being treated for malnutrition, which had dropped by 50 percent in April owing to lockdown restrictions.
“In the first weeks of July 2020, 106 620 children were screened for acute malnutrition, with 90 percent of the children being screened at community level in 25 nutrition priority districts.
“Of those screened in the first week of July, 67 were admitted for treatment of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and 51 were admitted for treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
“Nationally, 9 863 children were admitted for treatment of SAM between January and June 2020.
“The unexpected decrease in admission of children for treatment of acute malnutrition that was recorded in April has since improved with 1 643 children being admitted in May and 1 297 admissions in June compared to 1 168 the previous month of April.
“This increase in SAM admissions is a signal that continuity of essential services is being prioritised in health facilities,” Ocha said.
Ocha added that limited funding to meet the needs of the malnutrition response activates remained the main challenge for the emergency nutrition projects, as US$3,5 million has been availed against the required US$18,8 million.
“Maize grain availability remains poor due to a combination of factors including the poor 2019/2020 harvest, lack of foreign currency to import adequate maize grain quantities and slow movement of trade due to Covid-19 pandemic and restrictive measures to contain the spread of the disease.
“As of June 2020, maize grain prices recorded the highest percentage increase of 122 percent, a good indicator of supply shortages.
“These price increases are against a backdrop of decreasing income due to the Covid-19 pandemic and economic challenges, further worsening food insecurity,” Ocha further said.

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