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24,000 refugee children in S. Sudan facing retarded growth: UNHCR

March 4, 2018 (JUBA) – More than 24,000 of refugee children under five years in South Sudan suffer from growth retardation, a nutrition survey done by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) shows.

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South Sudanese refugees carrying Core Relief Items walk down a road in Bidibidi refugee settlement, Yumbe District, Northern Region, Uganda. (UNHCR/David Azia)

The agency said the survey, which was conducted among refugee children under five in eight refugee camps and settlements across South Sudan in December 2017 revealed that 6.2 per cent or 3,391 out of the total of 54,172 refugee children under 5 years old were suffering from acute malnutrition.

“Although below the emergency threshold of 15%, 6.2% prevalence indicates poor nutrition status of refugee children,” the agency said.

The survey, UNHCR said, also revealed that 48% or 26,000 of refugee children were suffering from anemia. Overall nutrition status of refugee children has improved as compared to previous years, however the number of children suffering from stunting, acute malnutrition and anemia remains to be a matter of high concern.

“Both stunting and anemia can have long-term negative consequences for children and affect children’s immune system as well as intellectual capacity and mental development,” said UNHCR Representative in South Sudan Johann Siffointe, adding that more efforts and resources need to be invested in preventive measures.

In addition to the nutrition status of refugee children, the survey also looked into families’ coping mechanisms to offset lack of food.

Over 80% of those polled during the survey stated resorting to negative coping strategies, including selling assets that would normally have not been sold, cash and food borrowings and reducing meal quantities and frequency, the agency further stated.

Meanwhile, the refugee agency said it is working closely with partners and UN agencies like the UN children fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP), to implement a number of initiatives and programs that are called to address the problem of malnourished refugee children. Together with it partners, UNHCR said it implemented a comprehensive management of acute malnutrition for all identified malnourished children, blanket supplementary feeding program for children under two years and pregnant and lactating women as a malnutrition preventive measure.

In addition to awareness raising sessions aimed at promoting early initiation of breastfeeding and appropriate infant and young children feeding practices, UNHCR and its partners have reportedly also embarked on the implementation of a strategy that addresses the problem of anemia and micronutrient deficiencies.

“The solution to the problem of malnutrition among refugee children in South Sudan requires a holistic approach and should include, among others, provision of adequate healthcare and water and sanitation services and expansion of livelihoods activities to allow refugees to attain food security at a household level,” stressed Siffointe.

(ST)