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UNICEF: Angolan Children Suffer Chronic Malnutrition - 2002-12-27

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, UNICEF, says malnutrition and measles remain critical threats to Angolan children.

UNICEF estimates one of four Angolan children dies before reaching age five. Chronic malnutrition levels are around 46 percent. Immunization coverage is very low throughout Angola, with only about 30 percent of children under five fully immunized against preventable diseases.

In a telephone interview from Angola, UNICEF Representative Mario Ferrari said after peace was declared in April, aid workers had access for the first time to children who previously had been unreachable. He said acute malnutrition among them was so high that as many as 5,000 children required special feeding to stay alive in May and June.

Although the levels of acute malnutrition have gone down, Mr. Ferrari said, they could easily go up again. "So we have also taken some precautionary measures," he said. "We have put in place a system of monitoring the situation, and we have already prepositioned some therapeutic milk in the provinces ready to be moved if there is a return to an acute situation." Measles is one of the biggest child killers in developing countries. It is particularly deadly among malnourished children.

Mr. Ferrari said UNICEF is working closely with Angola's Ministry of Health to prepare the firstever national measles vaccination campaign. He said the operation will start in April and aims to reach seven million children, ages nine months to 15 years old. He said UNICEF will take advantage of the campaign to revive routine vaccination centers which fell into disuse during the country's long civil war.

"We are retraining the personnel. We are organizing a system of supply of vaccines, supply of spare parts for refrigerators," Mr Ferrari said. "We try while we respond to the needs also to support the country to rebuild systems. And, this is what gives hope. The fact of rebuilding systems, this is the only way of helping this country to restart."

UNICEF Angola Representative Mario Ferrari said it is critical to save children dying from preventable diseases. But, he said it is also important to give them a sense of normality and stability. He said this can best be done by sending children back to school.

Mr. Ferrari said UNICEF and the Angolan Ministry of Education have begun "Back to School" pilot projects in two provinces worst affected by the war. He said they hope to expand these projects to Angola's other 16 provinces as soon as money becomes available.