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Millions more children in West and Central Africa suffering from malnutrition, according to study

17 October 2019

African person sorting beans

The number of malnourished children in West and Central Africa rose by three million in the space of five years, a study shows.

Academics from Cardiff University say the research, the first of its kind in the region, also shows no reduction in the number of children experiencing multiple forms of malnutrition and that this multiple burden is much more prevalent than previously thought. They cite persistent poverty, widespread food insecurity, rapid urban population growth and poor living conditions as some of the factors which contributed to the increase.

Lead author Dr Marco Pomati, based in the School of Social Sciences, said: “Our analysis shows that little progress has been made to address the urgent issue of malnutrition in West and Central Africa. The current indicators of child malnutrition, which are commonly used by governments and various organisations to track the problem, drastically understate the extent of malnutrition and particularly combinations of malnutrition in children.

“Certain combinations of malnutrition entail greater mortality and morbidity risk and yet these are not measured or monitored regularly. A greater understanding of the social drivers of malnutrition is vital so policy makers can develop informed and robust strategies to tackle the root causes.”

Using data from the demographic and health surveys (DHS) and UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), the researchers analysed data across 18 countries in the region. They found there were 21 million children under five-years-old showing one or more form of malnutrition in 2010, compared to 18 million in 2005. Just over nine million children under five experienced two or more forms of malnutrition.

In Nigeria, the most highly populated country in the region, more than half of children (52%) were malnourished and 22% showed signs of multiple malnutrition. Ghana was the only country which saw a clear decline in both prevalence and number of malnourished children.

In 2015, all member countries of the United Nations signed up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, pledging to take action to end poverty and hunger as part of a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Co-author Dr Shailen Nandy added: “These figures show that international efforts to reduce poverty need scaling up if they are to have any chance of success.

“Combatting malnutrition requires no new technologies, just the political will to address social and economic inequalities and injustice. In the absence of this, international targets like the SDGs simply remain aspirations.”

Assessing Progress towards SDG2: Trends and Patterns of Multiple Malnutrition in Young Children in West and Central Africa is published in Child Indicators Research and can be viewed here.

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