Baby being treated for severe acute malnutrition in Afghanistan

Parsto*, 11 months, is held by her 22-year-old mother, Nelab*, at a mobile clinic in Afghanistan where she's being treated for severe acute malnutrition. *Name changed. Photo credit: Sacha Myers / Save the Children

Child Malnutrition Cases Rise Nearly 50% in Afghanistan as Hunger Hits Record Levels

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (October 31, 2022) –   The number of dangerously malnourished children admitted to Save the Children's mobile health clinics in Afghanistan has increased by 47% since January this year, with some babies dying before receiving treatment, the children's charity said today.

Demand for malnutrition treatment services has surged in recent months as families struggle to cope with Afghanistan's worst hunger crisis on record. In January, Save the Children's 57 mobile health teams admitted about 2,500 malnourished children for treatment. By September, that number had jumped to around 4,270 children admitted by 66 teams, according to newly released data. [i]

Experts had hoped to see a drop in hunger levels in Afghanistan during the recent summer harvest season, but the ongoing drought has led to failed crops, and harvests have been much smaller than normal, forcing many rural families to sell land and livestock to buy food to feed their children. 

The other major driver of the food crisis – the collapse of the country's economy – has caused unemployment, poverty, and food prices to skyrocket, with many families now only surviving on bread and water for weeks at a time. 

Humanitarian organizations have provided vast amounts of life-saving food, but the needs are so high that 50% of Afghanistan's population is still facing extreme hunger, with 6 million children and adults – nearly one-eighth of the population - one step away from famine. [ii]

Save the Children doctors say they are overwhelmed with malnourished children – especially young girls who are often deprioritized when it comes to breastfeeding and complementary feeding compared to boys – and cannot keep up with the demand for services. 

Nelab*, 22, comes from a family of farmers who have been hit hard by the drought. Her three children have all suffered from severe acute malnutrition, including her three-year-old daughter Maryam*, who did not receive treatment in time and died on the way to the hospital. While Nelab's son Mohammad*, 2, has recovered, her other daughter, Parsto*, who is just 11 months old, is still dangerously malnourished. 

Nelab said: "There has been less rain than usual, so if we plant something, it doesn't grow, and then that makes the food really expensive

"When there's no food, the children go hungry, or we borrow money. Sometimes we only cook one meal a week. That meal is a soup without meat. In between, we eat bread one to two times a day. The situation is much worse than a few years ago. It makes me sad to know my children are malnourished because we don't have anything to eat, and I don't know how I can make them better."

Save the Children's Country Director in Afghanistan, Chris Nyamandi, said:  

"Humanitarian organizations like Save the Children are stretched to the absolute limit trying to stop children dying from hunger every day in Afghanistan. But the truth is, with so many children facing life-threatening levels of hunger, we simply do not have the resources to save them all. 

"Every day, we're faced with the heart-wrenching decision – which children do we save? It's outrageous and horrifying to think that international leaders have the power to save these children's lives – by working to solve the economic crisis and reinstating humanitarian funding and long-term development assistance that was withdrawn when the Taliban retook control – but they have been too slow to find solutions and now children are dying as a result.

"Humanitarian organizations have been sounding the alarm on Afghanistan for more than a year now. It's time the world stopped ignoring this catastrophic crisis and took action before many more children lose their lives."

Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. We have programs in nine of 34 provinces and work with partners in an additional six provinces.

Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, Save the Children has scaled up its response to support the increasing number of children in need. Delivering health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security and livelihood support. Save the Children has reached more than 3.3 million people, including 1.8 million children, since September 2021.

*Names have been changed

###

 i. Data from Save the Children's mobile health teams in Afghanistan. In Jan 2022, there were an average of 44 malnutrition cases per mobile health team. In Sept 2022, there were an average of 65 cases per team, which is a 47% increase in cases. 

 

Moderate & Severe Acute Malnutrition cases

No. of mobile health teams

Average number of malnutrition cases per team (rounded up)

Jan 2022

2,506

57

44

Feb 2022

2,165

52

42

March 2022

2,557

62

41

April 2022

3,875

66

59

May 2022

3,372

66

51

June 2022

4,847

66

73

July 2022

3,423

66

52

August 2022

3,842

66

58

Sept 2022

4,268

66

65

ii.  The Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) is an internationally recognised famine early-warning system, based on a scale from one (minimal food stress) to five (catastrophe/famine). According to the IPC report 18.9M people (9.2 M children) are projected to face high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above) between June and Nov 2022. 6 million people are in phase 4, which is one level below phase 5, which is classified as famine. 

 

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