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Program to Help Malnourished Iraqi Childen Depends on Volunteers - 2003-06-26

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund says acute malnutrition among Iraqi children has nearly doubled in recent months. UNICEF says access to healthy food, clean water and good sanitation have all contributed to the rise.

Mohammed is three-years-old. His mother is taking part in a Community Screening Program at Mrs. Samira Al-Orafli’s private school to check the progress of his growth.

She monitors about 1,000 local children in her small private day care center.

The screening began several years ago in conjunction with the former "Oil for Food" program to improve nutrition and monitor the health of Iraqi children while economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq. Last year, 1.2 million children throughout Iraq were screened. But the system collapsed during the war.

UNICEF’s is trying to re-start the countrywide network of 3,000 Community Centers where youngsters were screened for malnutrition.

“They are volunteers," said Dr. Wissam Al-Timimi who works on the project. "Their main task is to screen all the children under five in their local area … according to special calculation, special tables, they have to identify, calculate to identify those kids that are moderately and severely malnourished.”

So far, only about 100 of 300 centers in Baghdad, and all the centers in Umm Qasr in the south have resumed screening. The system depends on people like Mrs. Al-Orafli who volunteer at the local level.

"I am motivated by my eagerness to assist people and the children and the country. The children need special attention, special care," Mrs. Al-Orafli said.

Mohammed’s mother said he was doing fine until the war started, then he began losing weight. He’s doing better now.

Families get supplies of high protein biscuits from UNICEF to help their children maintain proper growth. UNICEF has distributed about 200,000 kilos of these biscuits in Iraq in the past few weeks.

Another part of the program relied on local primary health care centers and hospitals where children with severe malnutrition could be referred. But for the most part those centers and hospitals are not operating normally because there is no longer a Ministry of Health to manage them.