Childhood Mental Health in YemenYemen is currently enduring one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history. War, poverty and disease run rampant throughout the country. Around 1.8 million children suffer from acute malnutrition in Yemen, 400,000 of which are life-threatening cases. The Yemeni people face daily exposure to stress and violence in the form of Saudi-led airstrikes, Houthi detention camps, closed airports, poverty, starvation and cholera. This can impact childhood mental health in Yemen.

5 Things to Know about Childhood Mental Health in Yemen

  1. Lack of mental healthcare – There is a dire lack of mental healthcare providers in Yemen. Mental health services are only available in 21% of Yemen’s health facilities. As of February 2019, there are about 0.17 psychologists per 100,000 Yemenis. Save the Children reported that only two child psychiatrists are available for the whole of Yemen and only one mental health nurse is available for every 300,000 people.
  2. Safety and childhood mental health – A recent survey from Save the Children shows that 52% of children in Yemen never feel safe when they are away from their parents. The survey also showed that 56% of children never feel safe when walking alone and 36% of children never feel like they can talk to someone in their community if they are sad or upset. In addition, around 38% of caregivers report a recent increase in children’s nightmares.
  3. Malnourishment and brain development – Half of Yemeni children under 5 experience chronic malnourishment. This has a direct negative impact on brain development and will impact generations of Yemenis. Stunted brain development and the neglect of childhood mental health in Yemen will, according to Columbia Law School, “affect family structures, social cohesion, physical and emotional health, educational outcomes and reduce the ability to find peaceful solutions to conflict.”
  4. Since December 2017, violence from the Yemeni conflict has maimed or killed 2,047 children. Children throughout Yemen grieve family and friends killed by airstrikes every day. Living in these violent and stressful situations will not only have longterm effects on mental health but on physical health as well. High levels of prolonged stress can increase blood cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Consequently, children growing up in this environment are more vulnerable to chronic diseases like heart conditions in later life.
  5. People are doing something about it. The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies’ objective is to foster change through spreading knowledge–focusing specifically on Yemen and the surrounding area. The Sana’a Center partnered with the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic to bring attention to the mental health crisis in Yemen at the 2018 United Nations convention in Geneva. The two organizations pushed for an international response and also laid out a suggested plan for the Yemeni government. The plan called for the government to create a national mental health policy, ensure budget allocation for mental health services, reopen the Sana’a airport and pay salaries for public health sectors. Unfortunately, the crisis in Yemen led to the suspension of any government efforts to implement national mental health policies and no changes have yet been made.

The first step to a brighter future in Yemen is understanding the problems the Yemeni people face daily. Childhood mental health in Yemen is easy to overlook, but today’s children are tomorrow’s negotiators of peace. They are tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, teachers and politicians. The sooner the government can begin efforts to create a national mental health policy, the sooner the community can come together to ensure healthier and happier lives for the children of Yemen.

– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Flickr

What Causes StuntingWhat causes stunting? The World Health Organization (WHO) calls growth stunting one of the most significant impediments to human development.

Stunting is described as, low height for age or a height more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median.

It is estimated 162 million children under the age of five are stunted worldwide.

According to The Future of Children, stunting is an indication of malnutrition or nutrition related disorders. Contributing factors include poor maternal health and nutrition before, during and after pregnancy, as well as inadequate infant feeding practices especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life and infection.

In a global study, UNICEF explains that nearly half of all deaths of children under the age of five are attributable to chronic malnutrition. In one year, that’s a loss of nearly three million lives.

Malnutrition doesn’t only lead to decreased stature. Malnutrition increases the risk of dying from common infections, the frequency and severity of such infections and contributes to delayed recovery. According to UNICEF, the relationship between malnutrition and infection can create a potentially lethal cycle of worsening illness and deteriorating nutritional status.

The effects of stunting are lasting and generally irreversible. Children over the age of two who are stunted are unlikely to be able to regain their lost growth potential. In addition, children who experience stunting have an increased risk for cognitive and learning delays.

The effects of malnutrition on a population have broader impacts. Malnutrition perpetuates poverty and slows economic growth. Reports from the World Bank show that as much as 11 percent of gross national product in Africa and Asia is lost annually to the impact of malnutrition.

A study looking at the long-term effects of stunting in Guatemala showed adults who were stunted as children received less schooling, scored lower on tests, had lower household per capita expenditure and a greater likelihood of living in poverty. For women, stunting in early life was associated with a lower age at first birth and a higher number of pregnancies and children.

The World Bank estimates a 1 percent loss in adult height due to childhood stunting is associated with a 1.4% loss in economic productivity. Further estimates suggest stunted children earn 20 percent less as adults compared to non-stunted individuals.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed a plan to improve maternal, infant and young child nutrition by 2025. Their first target: a 40 percent reduction in the number of children under the age of five who are stunted.

Overall, progress has been made. UNICEF reported between 1990 and 2014 the number of stunted children under five worldwide declined from 255 million to 159 million. Today, that is just under one in four children under the age of five who have stunted growth.

At the same time, numbers of stunting have increased in West and Central Africa from 19.9 million to 28.0 million. As of 2014, just over half of all stunted children live in Asia and over one-third reside in Africa.

Kara Buckley

Sources: World Bank, UNICEF, The Future of Children, World Health Organization 1, World Health Organization 2

Literacy_in_AfghanistanNutrition and Education International (NEI) is aiding the Afghanistan government in carrying out nutrition programs that aim to improve literacy in Afghanistan.

Education has been a priority of the Afghan government postwar, but childhood stunting is affecting brain health and learning development in Afghan children. Studies have linked childhood stunting to poor cognitive development.

A third of Afghanistan’s population falls short of daily calorie needs, with 20 percent of the population lacking enough protein in their diet and 40 percent of children ‘stunted,’ or small for their age.

“A malnourished mother has a higher risk of delivering a fetus that is malnourished, small for its gestational age, and sometimes even premature,” explained child-health expert Zulfiqar Bhutta. “By virtue of this handicap, these babies often have issues with lifelong learning.”

To tackle the issue of food security in Afghanistan, NEI has been working with local governments and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to encourage the farming of soybeans.

Soybean was selected because it contains high-quality protein, zinc, iron and plenty of calories. In a country recovering from a war, cultivating soybeans is the most economical option.

NEI program has also provided employment and education for Afghans. NEI has trained over 70,000 farmers on cultivating soybeans and how to turn them into flour and milk.

Soybean is not a traditional part of the Afghan diet or landscape and the endeavor was initially met with criticisms, but with government support and local trainers that teach villagers about the benefits of soy, the program has expanded.

In 2014, the Republic of Korea contributed $12 million to the WFP to build Afghanistan’s first soy milk factory. The leftover soybean pulp will be distributed to local women as chicken feed in order to encourage them to raise poultry and generate income.

NEI aims to eliminate protein malnutrition all over Afghanistan by aid farmers in producing 300,000 metric tons of soybeans, which in turn will provide growing children with more protein in their diets, which then has a direct effect on increasing literacy in Africa.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: WFP, Project Literacy
Photo: Google Images


Malnutrition in Mauritania
Though the shores are teeming with fish, childhood malnutrition in Mauritania persists.

According to UNICEF, 20 percent of the country’s children under five are underweight. Another 22.5 percent of children exhibited signs of stunting, an inhibition of growth caused by chronic malnutrition. Wasting, a deterioration of fat and muscle due to acute malnutrition, was seen in 12.2 percent of children.

Mauritania ranks 27th in the world for under-five mortality, with a rate of 84 per 1000 births. Thirty-four percent of children are born with a low birth weight of less than 2500 grams.

Professor and nutrition expert Michael Golden stated in a 2012 interview with UNICEF that malnutrition is often caused by a combination of poverty, low social mobility and poor medical services. “What is needed now is to focus on health services research – how to deliver services effectively to poor people in places like Mauritania,” Golden said. “We need to maximize the efficiency of small numbers of staff who are not always well trained.”

One of the world’s poorest countries, Mauritania is known for its slave trade. Though slavery was outlawed in 1981, there were no criminal penalties for slave owners until 2007 and the practice is still widespread.

Mauritania’s economy relies mostly on agriculture, fishing and mining in lieu of industry. Very little of Mauritania’s land is arable and the country suffers from recurring droughts. Overfishing by foreigners has hurt its economy.

The country continues to be home to nearly 50,000 refugees fleeing neighboring Mali. In 2012, war broke out between the Malian government, Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists. The region remains volatile and refugees are reluctant to return.

According to the U.N.’s Standing Committee on Nutrition, malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease. It is especially dangerous for young children, who need a proper diet to develop. Without necessary vitamins and minerals, children may suffer from stunted physical and mental development.

Malnutrition is both a cause and symptom of global poverty. In countries where families consist of many children, it may not be possible to feed all of them. Those who are malnourished may struggle to work and mothers are often unable to breastfeed. As stunted children typically earn less as adults, malnutrition is a major factor in the cycle of poverty.

– Kevin Mclaughlin

Photo: Flickr