(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Health of cyclone-affected children improves

Two young children at the '3 Mile' displaced persons camp outside Labutta in southern Myanmar. Thousands of children were killed when Cyclone Nargis slammed into the Ayeyarwady Delta in May 2008.

The health of children under five in cyclone-affected Myanmar is improving, say specialists, despite huge challenges.

Initially, children living in the storm-hit areas were thought to be at a higher risk of acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies because of poor access to food and a balanced diet.

“The situation is getting better... curative and preventive services in health and nutrition have been reaching most of the vulnerable children and women even in hard-to-reach areas, and damaged health facilities and services are being rehabilitated,” Osamu Kunii, chief of health and nutrition at the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN in Yangon, the former capital.

The nutritional status of children was poor even before Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar, leaving almost 140,000 people dead or missing and affecting 2.4 million people more.

Approximately one-third of children in Myanmar are malnourished, and about one-fifth of newborns are underweight, according to this year’s State of the World’s Children report.

Added to that was an increased risk of communicable diseases, with many children lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the aftermath of Nargis, Kunii said.

According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report 42 percent of households lost all their food stocks during the cyclone, with another 33 percent losing most or some of their stocks.

In addition, about 75 percent of health facilities in the storm-hit areas were damaged.

Initial fears not realised

Yet initial fears of nutrition rates deteriorating further were not realised, aid workers noted.

“As per our findings, the condition of health and nutrition of the children is almost back to normal. It's not a big problem any more,” said Souheil Reaiche, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières-Switzerland.

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Initial fears of a rise in acute malnutrition rates did not materialise

According to its survey of more than 22,000 children screened for malnutrition at mobile clinics in the cyclone-affected townships of Bogale and Pyapon, 0.2 percent of the children were severely malnourished, while 2.6 percent and 14 percent were moderately malnourished and at risk of malnutrition respectively.

In Ngaputaw and Myaungmya, 0.6 percent of the children were severely malnourished, while 6.6 percent and 10 percent of the children were moderately malnourished and at risk of malnutrition respectively, reported Save the Children.

In Labutta, said Merlin, 0.25 percent of under-fives were severely malnourished, while 3.6 percent and 21 percent of the children were moderately malnourished and at risk respectively.

“These indicators are not high, they are just average,” said Khin Maung Pyone, a medical coordinator for the NGO in Labutta.

According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2003) conducted by the Department of Health Planning and National Nutrition Centre, severe acute malnutrition rates averaged 1.7 percent for all under-fives in Myanmar.


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