Malnutrition in Angolan Children
Global poverty has a detrimental effect on health, specifically on the health of children. Statistically, malnutrition impacts children the most as 3.1 million children die annually from a lack of nutrition, according to the World Hunger 2018 report. In Angola, the leading cause of children’s death is malnutrition. In the World Vision report on countries struggling with malnutrition, Angola ranks as number one for countries that have the weakest commitment to fighting malnutrition in children. This goes to show how malnutrition is a critical issue for Angolan children, which requires more attention. Here is some information about malnutrition in Angolan children.

The Effects of Malnutrition

Although malnutrition includes both undernutrition and overnutrition, the majority of the focus is on undernutrition as it is a significant effect of global poverty. The Leader of Intersectional Nutrition working Group and Nutrition Advisor for Medecins Sans Frontieres, Dr. Kirrily de Polnay, MBBS, MA, MSc told The Borgen Project that, “The reason why we often focus more on undernutrition is that less than 20% of undernutrition children receive care.” Undernutrition in children tends to come with other direct health issues such as vitamin deficiency, wasting, growth stunting and fetal growth restrictions. Undernutrition can also worsen the effects of underlying health problems and diseases. This includes children with recurrent illnesses like measles, malaria, diarrhea and other chronic diseases. As a result, malnutrition creates a higher risk for already vulnerable children.

Undernourished children in Angola have a higher risk of infection, delayed development and death. These children also tend to develop non-communicable diseases in their adult lives, creating a cycle of poor health that can also result in severe malnutrition. These effects can lead to harsher consequences later in their lives. This includes little to no economic growth, which causes low incomes and generational poverty.

Malnutrition and Poverty

Poverty accounts for the majority of malnutrition cases in children. About 40% of Angolans live below the poverty line. This in turn creates a high rate of malnutrition, specifically in children who are more susceptible to the consequences of extreme poverty. Malnutrition is the main cause of child death, which the high infant mortality rate reflects.

One can further break the causes of malnutrition down into food insecurity, unhealthy household conditions and inadequate health care. All of these causes tend to lead back to the overarching problem of poverty. Moreover, the potential causes of malnutrition in children are a result of both socio-economic and political factors in Angola.

Current Plans

The number of malnourished children is currently increasing with more than 2.4 million people and severe malnutrition in Angola affecting 85,000 children since 2019. The number of people in Angola affected has doubled within the past year and expectations have determined it will increase. World Vision described the current situation regarding malnutrition as the number of hungry people can stretch across the world one and half times in southern Africa alone.

Even though Angola has a major problem with malnutrition, the country has been on track to control the current problems. According to the Global Nutrition Report, Angola is specifically targeting the maternal, infant and young child nutrition sectors of malnutrition. Some of the current successes include:

  • An increase in the number of infants reaching the birth weight target by 15.3%.
  • Mothers exclusively breastfeeding about 37.4% of infants (0 to 5 months), which is helping provide infants with adequate nutrients.
  • A lower average (4.9%) of children under 5-years-old experiencing wasting in comparison to the South African region.

Medecins Sans Frontieres

The way in which organizations are helping countries like Angola with child malnutrition is by directly providing care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Kirrily de Polnay provides a great example of this direct help she is a part of with Medecins Sans Frontieres. Medecins Sans Frontieres has 101 projects that include all continents except Australia where it treats malnourished children and also implements preventative activities. It mostly works in Africa where it focuses on treatment as it is a medical emergency organization. Dr. Kirrily de Polnay describes the organization’s work as: “We run outpatient centers treating children with malnutrition, and we also run inpatients in hospitals treating children with both malnutrition and other medical complications.” Direct aid is crucial regarding health care and can reduce the number of malnourished people globally.

UNICEF

UNICEF is one of the few organizations that are helping to decrease the effects of malnutrition in Angolan children. Some of what UNICEF has been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic has included:

  • Providing training to 445 frontline health care workers in various Angolan provinces.
  • Teaching health care workers in Angola effective ways to treat severe acute malnutrition and implementing vitamin supplementation protocols.
  • Implementing leading mother-led Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) measurement protocols in Angola. MUAC measurements help improve screening and early identification of malnutrition in children and reduce serious complications.
  • Continuously advocating for a secure energy response in Luanda within the Provisional Health Office.
  • Producing infant and young feeding pamphlets and counseling cards regarding both malnutrition and health awareness for COVID-19 and distributed them among 49 health facilities across Luanda.
  • Helping over 14,000 caregivers of young children (0-23 months) receive the necessary counseling regarding nutrition and over 57,000 children received nutrition services.

Prevention

Through the recent help it has received, Angola has shown how it is able to increase the care necessary to circumvent the problem of malnutrition in children. However, more work is necessary to make a significant impact on the children who malnutrition affects.

Dr. Kirrily de Polnay recognizes the need for more action, specifically with decision-makers who should be more receptive and open to listening to organizations and people in areas of concern. Dr. Kirrily de Polnay also extends this call to action to regular people, stating that, “Writing about it, talking about it, making sure you are really informed about all the very different multifactorial causes of malnutrition is really important.”

Overall, it is important that people collectively help at all levels from building awareness to giving direct aid when it comes to not only malnutrition in Angolan children but also all the other various issues that stem from global poverty.

– Zahlea Martin
Photo: Flickr