Over 4 000 Malnourished Zim children Admitted In Hospital

INCREASING poverty levels coupled with shortages of Ready To Use Therapeutic Foods (RTUFs) like ‘Plumpy-Nut,’ has resulted in 4 300 children being admitted in hospital for wasting, a scenario which threatens to derail the gains made in reducing wasting amongst children under five years.

By Kuda Pembere

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes wasting as acute malnutrition. It is a sign that a child has experienced short periods of undernutrition, resulting in significant wastage of muscle and fat tissue. This means their weight is very low for their height.

In 2019 according to a recently released joint report by the World Bank and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), Zimbabwe had a national prevalence of 2.9 percent in wasting which was perceived as low.

Yet, a UNICEF Zimbabwe Humanitarian Situation report noted that about 4 300 children were treated for wasting between January and April this year.

“Between January and April 2023, a total of 4,295 girls and boys were admitted for treatment of wasting, (2,355 girls and 1,940 boys), in line with admissions for the same time last year,” said UNICEF Zimbabwe.

UNICEF Zimbabwe bemoans the shortage of RTUFs will affect treatment programs for wasting/

There is a shortage of ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) and therapeutic milks (F100 and F75) in the country and stock-outs are starting to occur in high-burden facilities which will affect the performance of programmes for treatment of wasting in the coming months and will affect the survival of children with wasting,” said UNICEF Zimbabwe.

RUTFs are a type of therapeutic food used in community-based treatment for uncomplicated forms of severe acute malnutrition. Typically, RUTFs are made from peanut-based paste, oil, sugar and powdered milk, with added vitamins and minerals, which are a life-saving essential supply item that treats severe wasting in children under 5 years old.

UNICEF Zimbabwe noted that the national cure rate for the country was below the international sphere standard.

“The defaulter rate in the cities remains high and influencing the national defaulter rate at 17% in February, which has impacted the national cure rate (68.5% for February) and is below the international Sphere standard of 75%,” UNICEF Zimbabwe said.

Vitamin A supplementation (VAS) according to UNICEF ZImbabwe continued through health facilities and community platforms which saw 385,861 children receiving VAS between January and April (167,081 girls and 28,780 boys).

“In addition, 596,633 children (308,707 girls and 287,926 boys) have been screened for wasting using middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) in the community and 207,836 caregivers have received counselling on improving infant and young child feeding practices including through Care Groups,” noted UNICEF Zimbabwe.

UNICEF says, “When efforts to prevent malnutrition fall short, early detection and treatment of children with wasting and other life-threatening forms of malnutrition are critical to save their lives and put them on the path to healthy growth and development.

“In most cases, children with wasting can be treated with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), allowing them to recover in their own homes and communities rather than in a health facility. Treatment services should be resourced by governments and managed primarily by the national health system rather than humanitarian workers.

“Guided by the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting, UNICEF supports governments in scaling up the early detection and treatment of children with wasting in health facilities and communities by Using evidence to inform early detection and treatment, strengthening health worker capacities, expanding early detection and treatment services, integrating nutrition supplies within national health systems as well as making RUTF more affordable and sustainable.”

On the other hand, the country’s nutrition sector coordination was strengthened during March and April with a review of the Terms of References (TOR) of all the national sub-working groups, a review of the 5W’s matrix for nutrition and the sector contact / membership list. Monthly nutrition sector meetings, UNICEF Zimbabwe said have continued, co-led by the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) and UNICEF.

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