Cameroon: Malnutrition Hits Children Arriving From Central African Republic

In Cameroon up to 1 out of 3 refugee children from Central African Republic suffer from malnutrition, a recent United Nations assessment found. Kinday Samba, WFP senior nutritionist, was part of the assessment mission. We asked her about what she saw.

Q: What did you see during your visit to refuges sites in Eastern Cameroon?

A: We saw a lot of very thin, malnourished children; while visiting several households, we met children so sick they were unable to go with their mothers to register at the health center. At the site where mothers and children were being checked in to register for the blanket supplementary feeding programme, one in four children was identified as either moderately malnourished or severely malnourished.  The situation was pretty alarming.

Q: How do you explain the high numbers of malnourished children?

A: Considering how they have arrived here and the stories we have been hearing, their critical nutrition state isn’t surprising. They spent a lot of time in the bush—sometimes two or three months—and during that time they didn’t have nearly enough food to eat or clean water to drink. Many are sick with diseases such as malaria. Unaccompanied children often had it worst, unable to buy food or eat adequately. A woman told us that she comes from a community not too far from Bangui, so you can imagine the distances families have traveled on foot.

Q: How is WPF responding to this emergency?

A: From the nutrition perspective, we are responding in two ways in order to save the lives of the young children. We are helping to identify those who are malnourished and provide them with treatment. All children under five identified as moderately malnourished will be given highly nutritious food that can be eaten without needing to cook it.  Children receive this food every two weeks until they achieve a desired weight. To prevent malnutrition, we are providing highly nutritious foods to all children under five as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers. Those who are undernourished among these women receive treatment as well. We are also giving food to households, including rice, pulses and oil. Because they are arriving here with no means of livelihood, they cannot work, they cannot grow their own food; they arrive here with basically nothing. We are providing what we call general food distributions to families so that they have enough food to eat on a daily basis.

Q: What challenges are you facing?

A: We face a number of challenges. First, there are a lot of malnourished children, almost 25 percent of all the children under five. In Cameroon, Government and partners are not used to dealing with such levels of under nutrition, since normally the communities around here don’t have high levels of acute malnutrition. Partners were also not prepared for this influx. Our first challenge was having enough partners on the ground. In terms of capacity, we also had to make sure that partners were equipped to effectively deliver the necessary nutrition services. Another challenge is access to those in need, especially people living outside the sites. And of course funding is a challenge; we need enough resources to be able to reach all the refugees that require support.