Aid workers at al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Haradh District, Hajjah Governorate, northernYemen, say more and more children are arriving at the camp in a state of moderate or severe malnourishment.
"During our tent visits, we found that an average family has a severely or moderately malnourished child," said Sarah Yahya, a volunteer working with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on identifying malnourished children.
Khalid Shaibani from the UNICEF-run therapeutic feeding centre (TFC) at the camp told IRIN the number of malnourished children was increasing by the day as new IDP families arrived.
"Two babies died from malnutrition complications just a few days after their families secured shelter in the camp. Another 10 were referred to a hospital in Haradh town, 40km west of the camp," he said.
Of the 3,000 under fives targeted by a recent screening in the camp, 667 cases (22 percent) were severely malnourished and 200 (6.67 percent) moderately malnourished, according to Shaibani.
In September UNICEF screened about 1,200 under-five IDP children in the camp and found 7 percent severely malnourished.
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Ali Mahdi is one of the parents who brought his two young children to the TFC.
"Faris's arms and legs are getting thinner and thinner by the day. No food remains in his stomach for more than 10 minutes due to very bad diarrhoea and vomiting. He hardly stands up or sits down and spends most of the time lying on his back," said the father of the four-year-old boy.
Mahdi, his wife and their six children fled their home in the Dhafir District, Saada Governorate, to the Saudi border in mid-August because of fighting between government troops and Houthi-led insurgents. Whilst taking refuge there, they had very limited access to food, Mahdi’s wife, Khudhra, told IRIN.
After a Saudi army operation against Houthi insurgents in the border area in early November, the family was forced, along with hundreds of others, to flee again.
Rajia Ahmed Sharhan, a nutrition officer with UNICEF in Sanaa, said moderate malnourishment is not very visible.
“Probably malnourishment was there among some children before the displacement occurred, but was not very visible. When the families had to flee and had problems with accessing proper and nutritious food for weeks, those moderate cases became severe,” she said.
Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
|Staff at the UNICEF-run therapeutic feeding centre in al-Mazraq camp measure malnourished Faris's upper arm|
"We cannot say that the war situation is the only source of the problem because mothers neglect their babies and don't know how to feed them. Several cases had shown chronic malnutrition," said UNICEF volunteer Yahya.
Tent visits to increase mothers' awareness on how to care for their babies, as well as to promote breastfeeding, revealed that many mothers often gave their babies tea with bread in the morning and at night, which can lead to anaemia and malnutrition, Yahya said, adding: "If water is given in lieu of tea, symptoms will be milder.”
"Even worse, mothers with newborns come to us and ask for milk powder, preferring it to breastfeeding. They aren't aware of the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies," Yahya said.
According to the World Health Organization, only 11.5 percent of mothers in Yemen exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are six months old.
TFC provides different types of therapeutic formula to affected children, depending on how serious the case is, TFC's Shaibani said. "Acute moderate cases get two sacks of Plumpy’Nut a day while severe cases with serious complications are given concentrated proteins and vitamins through nasogastric tubes in the camp's clinic."
He said 75-percent fat milk is given to infants with oedema (an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or in one or more cavities of the body), usually caused by malnourishment complications. "If no improvement is noticed, the centre refers critical cases to the Haradh-based hospital or to Sabin Hospital in Sanaa."