UNICEF warns of malnutrition among pregnant women and young mothers

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UNICEF warns about malnutrition among pregnant women and young mothers

Two mothers hold their malnourished child in their arms at a UNICEF-supported center in Garbaharey, Somalia. (Photo archives)

The number of expectant and nursing mothers suffering from acute malnutrition has increased by 25% since 2020 in 12 countries at the “epicenter” of the global food crisis, UNICEF warned on Monday, highlighting the deleterious consequences on their children.

A report, based on analysis of data on underweight and anemia in nearly every country, estimates that more than one billion women and adolescent girls around the world suffer from undernutrition – resulting in underweight and short stature -, essential micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia. A majority of them are in the poorest regions.

Thus, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa concentrate 68% of women and adolescent girls with underweight and 60% of those with anemia.

These nutritional deficiencies have an impact on the well-being of these women, but also affect their children, underlines UNICEF, noting that poor nutrition is transmitted from generation to generation.

Malnutrition increases the risk of neonatal mortality, but also impairs fetal development, generating lasting effects on children's nutrition, growth and learning, as well as on their future ability to support themselves.

Globally, 51 million children under the age of 2 are stunted. We estimate that almost half of cases occur during pregnancy and the first six months of life, when a child's nutrition is entirely dependent on the mother, the report points out, which pays particular attention especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

It is estimated that between 2020 and 2022, the number of pregnant or breastfeeding women suffering from acute malnutrition increased by 25%, from 5.5 to 6.9 million, in 12 countries in food crisis (Afghanistan, Burkina Faso , Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Chad and Yemen).

“If the international community does not act urgently, this crisis could have lasting consequences for future generations.

— Excerpt from statement by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell

To prevent undernutrition in children, we must also address malnutrition in adolescent girls and women, she pointed out.

UNICEF calls for giving priority to women and girls in terms of access to nutritious food, to put in place binding measures to extend to large-scale fortification of common foods such as flour, cooking oil or salt, or to eliminate certain discriminatory practices leading to inequitable sharing of food in households.

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