Alarming rates of malnutrition amongst refugee children

A recent UNHCR survey of refugee camps found alarming rates of malnutrition in children under the age of five. Many of the worst cases are among new arrivals: refugees who have just escaped a warzone, or a region stricken by drought and food shortages, and made the difficult journey to safety. 

UNHCR Global Associate Nutrition and Food Security Officer, Heqian Kuang, says we only have a small window of opportunity to treat malnutrition in young children – 1,000 days from the time of pregnancy to the age of two.

After this, much of the damage is irreversible and can last a lifetime, including physical deformities like stunting, organ damage and cognitive impairment.

But even a severely malnourished child has a 98% chance of recovery if they receive the right nutritional support in time. Donate to the Hunger Crisis →

UNHCR is delivering care and treatment for malnourished children in three key ways:

  1. Urgent treatment – support for hospitals and feeding centres that monitor, treat and prevent malnutrition in children and infants

  2. Life-saving supplies – therapeutic milks and fortified foods, such as nutributters, to treat severe acute malnutrition and vaccinations to protect refugee children from preventable diseases

  3. Prevention – pre-natal care and nutritional support for pregnant and nursing mothers to give children the best start in life.
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Fawaz's fight for survival

Severely acutely malnourished children like Fawaz need to be quickly identified and admitted to hospital ©UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

A month after his admission to hospital, 18-month-old Fawaz weighs little more than a newborn baby and still struggles to hold down his therapeutic milk. A desperate shortage of food and medicine in Yemen has pushed many children like Fawaz to the brink of starvation.

Severely acutely malnourished children like Fawaz need to be quickly identified and admitted to hospital for emergency medical treatment. UNHCR supports the running of hospitals, clinics and emergency feeding centres for refugees, and supplies a range of therapeutic milks and fortified infant foods.

The difference we can make, given the right resources, is incredible.

A donation today could help provide thousands of refugee children, like Fawaz, with essential nourishment and make a real and lasting difference to their lives. Donate now →

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Providing Food 

Malnutrition is a common consequence of conflict and displacement. UNHCR works with the World Food Programme (WFP) to ensure that all refugees have access to adequate nutrient-rich food. UNHCR assists with the distribution of food rations in camps and provide urban refugees with vouchers and cash assistance for the purchase of food and groceries. In acute situations, UNHCR supports emergency nutrition and therapeutic feeding programs, supplying fortified milks and ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

Providing Medication

UNHCR facilitates access to basic healthcare for refugees through camp clinics and local healthcare providers. Priority health services include emergency medical care for those who have suffered violence, reproductive services and treatment for infants and the elderly. UNHCR also coordinates immunisation programs to prevent the spread of diseases in crowded refugee settings.

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