Years of civil war in the Republic of Congo (ROC) have resulted in massive population displacement, food shortages and an increase in severe malnutrition, a government official said on Wednesday.
"The situation has caused an increase in severe cases of malnutrition among both children and adults," Jean-Ignace Tendelet, the director of cabinet in the Ministry of Health and Population, said in the capital, Brazzaville.
"According to the statistics, between June and November 1999, 17.5 percent of children aged between 0 and 5 years suffered from severe malnutrition," he said.
Tendelet said the country's different integrated health centres and hospitals lacked adequate technical structures and could not handle the situation.
Between the early 1990s and 2000, a series of civil wars have devastated Congo's socioeconomic situation and depleted agricultural production.
In 2002, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said 32 percent of Congolese suffered from hunger. According to the government's assessment, Congo imports products worth at least 100 billion (US $182.4 million) every year.
As the country emerges from the war, government officials have asked the UN, NGOs and other international organisations to help take care of emergency malnutrition cases.
A recent UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) survey of the nutritional situation of the Congolese shows that the lack of vitamin A and iodine has become a serious public health concern.
UNCIEF said children, pregnant and breast-feeding women were the most vulnerable population; 51.8 percent of children under-school age; 45.7 percent of school-age children and 44.4 percent of pregnant and breast-feeding women lack vitamin A and iodine.
It added: "58.6 percent of pregnant women and 71.6 percent of females of child-bearing age lack iron. The situation is linked to the low rate of vitamin A and iron distribution coverage. Ten percent of school-age children, including 14.6 percent of girls and 6.3 percent of boys, lack iodine."
In order to ensure that children aged under five years get vitamin A, health officials have been distributing vitamin tablets each time a national polio vaccination drive is launched.
A regional workshop on how to handle malnutrition in an emergency situation is scheduled to be held in Brazzaville from Wednesday to Monday.
Some 30 participants from Central and West Africa are expected to take part in the workshop aimed at training medical staff and nutritionists on how to work with patients who suffer from severe malnutrition.