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UNICEF Survey Finds Malnutrition Among Tsunami-Affected Indonesian Children


UNICEF reports a survey conducted with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows high malnutrition and disease among children in Banda Aceh. The U.N. children's fund says one in eight children in tsunami-affected areas of Indonesia is suffering from acute malnutrition.

More than 600 children between six months and five-years-old and more than 300 women were surveyed in mid-January in and around Banda Aceh. UNICEF says this rapid nutrition assessment was conducted to get a clearer picture of urgent needs.

The survey finds nearly 13 percent of children are suffering from acute malnutrition. In addition, it says diarrhea and fever also are widespread among children and women in emergency relief camps across Aceh province.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz notes appeals for food assistance have received a tremendous response. He says the high levels of malnutrition among children have little to do with a lack of food, but rather with the quality of the food they are receiving.

"There [are] not enough vegetables. There [are] not enough fruits. There is not enough milk products, although they do not really eat too much milk product," he said. "And, there is also not fish and meat. So, the food has been mainly oil and soya beans and rice and instant noodles, which are O.K. for a week or two, but definitely not good for children below five years old and definitely not also good on a population that has been weakened."

Another problem, says Mr. Personnaz, is that many tsunami survivors have no access to safe water and adequate sanitation. He says contaminated water can lead to outbreaks of diarrhea and dysentery. He says children who are in a weakened state are especially prone to falling ill. He says a combination of poor nutritional food and illness can result in the child becoming malnourished.

Based on the survey results, Mr. Personnaz says UNICEF and other aid agencies are providing malnourished children daily rations of high protein food, together with some vegetables.

"They come in a small tent. They are being weighed. They are being fed and the next day they come or at least on a regular basis for at least two or three weeks,” he explained. “That is the only way for them to get rid of this acute malnutrition and to be able to recover. It is pretty easy when the children are between three and six-years-old because they recover usually extremely fast. It is more difficult when the children below two years old have been suffering from acute malnutrition for at least two weeks."

To fight disease, UNICEF and Indonesia's ministry of health are immunizing 1.3 million children against measles in 13 districts of Aceh province. It says tens of thousands of children already have been vaccinated and also have received Vitamin A supplements, which help prevent blindness.

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