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Children Acutely Malnourished in Central African Republic

The U.N. Children's Fund says thousands of children in the Central African Republic are acutely malnourished. UNICEF is urgently appealing for $1.5 million to provide life-saving therapeutic foods, drugs and other supplies to these vulnerable children during the next six months.

UNICEF is conducting a nutritional survey in the Central African Republic. Preliminary assessments of three provinces in the Southwestern part of the country reveal 16 percent of children under five are acutely malnourished, and 6.6 percent are severely acutely malnourished.

UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Mediatrice Kiburente tells VOA these numbers are far above the emergency thresholds of two percent for severe acute malnutrition and 15 percent for global acute malnutrition. She says preliminary estimates find more than 16,700 children surveyed are at risk.

"When we speak about severely malnourished children ... they are at a very high risk of death. If nothing is done for those children, they are going to die. They are at the last, last, last level of malnutrition," Kiburente said.

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries, with one of the highest infant mortality rates. A recent U.N. study finds nearly 81 infants out of 1,000 die. This compared to 2.9 children out of 1,000 in Iceland.

Kiburente is on a nutrition assessment mission in Boali, a town about 80 kilometers from the capital Bangui from where she spoke to VOA by telephone.

She says conditions of life in Southwestern CAR have become more difficult recently and children are particularly vulnerable to lack of proper nourishment. She says the health system has collapsed and hygiene practices are very poor.

"Since June, it is a new shock coming from the global economic crisis that affects, especially the mining regions. The regions that had revenue coming from mines or coming from mine activities," Kiburente said. "So the reduction of mine activities affects the revenue of the households, which affects the quality and quantity of food eaten by the families."

Kiburente says malnourishment in the conflict-ridden northern part of the country is high, but unlike the south the north has aid agencies in place to help care for the children.

She says UNICEF and other U.N. and private aid agencies are pooling resources to assist the vulnerable children in the more stable, but greatly impoverished south.