The number of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from acute malnutrition has soared by 25 percent across 12 countries in Africa and Asia since 2020, according to a UNICEF report.
In the report published on Tuesday, UNICEF said that the number of malnourished mothers increased from 5.5 million to 6.9 million over the last two years in countries hardest hit by a global nutrition crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, drought, conflict and instability.
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In the 12 countries – Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen – more than one billion adolescent girls and women are suffering from undernutrition with devastating consequences for their lives and wellbeing, said the report.
“The global hunger crisis is pushing millions of mothers and their children into hunger and severe malnutrition,” warned UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell.
Poor nutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women can lead to several health issues for their children, including premature births, low birth weight, stunting and wasting in newborns, according to the report.
It added that children born to malnourished mothers are also more likely to develop chronic health problems and have a higher risk of mortality.
‘Mobilise the political will’
According to the report, half of stunting in children under two develops during pregnancy and the first six months of life, “the 500-day period when a child is fully dependent on maternal nutrition”.
About 51 million children under two develop stunting globally due to malnutrition.
“To prevent undernutrition in children, we must also address malnutrition in adolescent girls and women,” explained Russell.
The countries mentioned in the report face multiple crises, including conflict, displacement and devastating climate change effects, which have disrupted livelihoods and access to essential services.
“We know what it takes to get life-saving nutrition support and services to the women and children who need it most. We just need to mobilise the political will and resources to act. There is no time to waste,” said Russell.