By Spy Uganda
Ahead of World Nutrition Day on May 28th, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is warning about the dire consequences of acute malnutrition – the most life-threatening form of malnutrition – on women and children in Uganda’s refugee settlements, where the number of cases across five settlements has risen by nearly 50% from 2021 to 2022.
According to data collected from different IRC-supported health facilities and service points across the five settlements, there were close to 6,300 acute malnutrition cases treated in 2021, while in 2022, the figure rose to more than 9,300, with the majority of cases being children and women. In the first quarter of 2023 alone, over 2,000 cases have already been recorded, indicating a worrying trend.
Additionally, according to the IPC Acute Malnutrition Analysis 2022, it is estimated that 36,590 children aged 6-59 months across all refugee settlements are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition and in need of treatment in the period of February 2022 to January 2023. Worryingly, over 4,000 pregnant and lactating women among the refugee population are affected by acute malnutrition and in need of treatment in the same period.
The most recent Food Security and Nutrition Assessment report indicates that the main causes of this situation include the generally poor food consumption levels among children with the minimum acceptable diet as low as 8.5% across settlements; and the high cases of malaria and acute respiratory infections with more than 75% of children in settlements having tested positive for malaria in the past two weeks preceding the survey.
The situation has been further compounded by significant humanitarian funding reductions for critical services, such as health and nutrition, as well as food ration cuts by the World Food Program (WFP).
The WFP’s universal food ration reduction to 70% of households’ daily needs, which began in 2020, has resulted in refugee households receiving only 26-48% of the minimum daily needs, with dietary diversity sharply impacted.
Refugees face challenges in accessing land to grow their own food, and the impact of climate change is also a contributing factor. Meanwhile, the overstretched health system is dealing with high rates of diseases such as malaria, acute diarrhea and pneumonia, as well as ongoing outbreaks of measles and mumps.
Elijah Okeyo, the IRC Uganda Country Director, said, “The world is set to mark World Nutrition Day to raise awareness about the importance of the right to nutrition for all, yet, the current situation in Uganda’s refugee settlements paints a bleak picture.
We need immediate action, and additional resources to fund critical service delivery, including health and nutrition, as well as more sustainable mechanisms such as improving livelihoods and environment-friendly agriculture.
The consequences of failing to address the issue could be dire, including poor child growth and development affecting education outcomes, maternal health challenges, the premature return of refugees to their countries of origin, and movement across borders in search of basic needs such as food, exposing them to unsafe and conflict situations, among other long-term implications. This is a grim reality – the world cannot afford to stand back and watch.”
The Committee says it is critical to increase the ability of acutely malnourished children in places like Uganda to access lifesaving treatment by adopting simplified approaches that are effective and efficient.
A scalable solution exists: treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), an easy-to-administer, shelf-stable fortified peanut butter paste has shown to be highly effective for more than 20 years.