More than one third of all child deaths every year around the world are attributed to malnutrition, specifically undernutrition, which weakens the body’s resistance to illness. In DRC, malnutrition is one of the three main causes of mortality among children under 5 years old.
If a woman is malnourished during pregnancy or if her child is malnourished during the first 2 years of life, the child’s physical and mental growth and development will be slowed. This cannot be corrected when the child is older – it will affect the child for the rest of his or her life.
Malnutrition develops when the body does not get the proper amount of energy (calories), proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients required to keep the organs and tissues healthy and functioning well. A child or adult can be malnourished by being undernourished or overnourished.
2 millionchildren suffer from chronic malnutrition in the DRCThe DRC has reached a turning point: the mortality rate among children under 5 years old has decreased by 30 percent since 2007, from 148 to 104 per 1,000 live births. However, it is estimated that 2 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 1,9 million children under 5 are affected by severe acute malnutrition every year.
What every family and community has a right to know about nutrition:
1. A young child should grow and gain weight rapidly. From birth to age 2, children should be weighed regularly to assess growth. If regular weighing shows that the child is not gaining weight, or the parents or other caregivers see the child is not growing, something is wrong. The child needs to be seen by a trained health worker.
2. Breastmilk alone is the only food and drink an infant needs in the first six months of life. After six months, a baby needs a variety of other foods in addition to breastmilk to ensure healthy growth and development.
3. From the age of 6–8 months a child needs to eat two to three times per day and three to four times per day starting at 9 months – in addition to breastfeeding. Depending on the child’s appetite, one or two nutritious snacks, such as fruit or bread with nut paste, may be needed between meals. The baby should be fed small amounts of food that steadily increase in variety and quantity as he or she grows.
4. Feeding times are periods of learning, love and interaction, which promote physical, social and emotional growth and development. The parent or other caregiver should talk to children during feeding, and treat and feed girls and boys equally and patiently.
5. Children need vitamin A to help resist illness, protect their eyesight and reduce the risk of death. Vitamin A can be found in many fruits and vegetables, red palm oil, eggs, dairy products, liver, fish, meat, fortified foods and breastmilk. In areas where vitamin A deficiency is common, high-dose vitamin A supplements can also be given every four to six months to children aged 6 months to 5 years.
6. Children need iron-rich foods to protect their physical and mental abilities and to prevent anaemia. The best sources of iron are animal sources, such as liver, lean meats and fish. Other good sources are iron-fortified foods and iron supplements.
7. Iodine in a pregnant woman’s and young child’s diet is especially critical for the development of the child’s brain. It is essential to help prevent learning disabilities and delayed development. Using iodized salt instead of ordinary salt provides pregnant women and their children with as much iodine as they need.
8. As the child’s intake of foods and drinks increases, the risk of diarrhoea substantially increases. Contamination of foods with germs is a major cause of diarrhoea and other illnesses that cause children to lose nutrients and energy needed for growth and development. Good hygiene, safe water and proper handling, preparation and storing of foods are crucial to prevent illnesses.
9. During an illness, children need additional fluids and encouragement to eat regular meals, and breastfeeding infants need to breastfeed more often. After an illness, children need to be offered more food than usual to replenish the energy and nourishment lost due to the illness.
10. Very thin and/or swollen children need special medical care. They should be taken to a trained health worker or health facility for assessment and treatment.
Facts for Life aims to provide families and communities with the information they need to save and improve the lives of children. Parents, grandparents, other caregivers and young people can refer to this practical source of information for answers to their questions related to childbearing and getting children off to the best start in life.
Illustration made for Po na Bana by:
Photos: UNICEF RDC 2013 Perrine Piton
Justine Mounet est consultante en communication à l’UNICEF RDC. Justine a rejoint l'UNICEF en 2013 car elle est croit que le plaidoyer et la participation de chacun sont essentiels pour faire avancer la société, le bien-être et les droits de tous. Justine est spécialisée dans l'engagement des jeunes à travers le web, convaincue que ce sont des acteurs puissants du changement. Son leitmotiv ? "L'arbre qui tombe fait plus de bruit que la forêt qui pousse" : portons la voix de la forêt en germe !
Justine Mounet is a Communication Consultant at UNICEF in DRC. Justine joined UNICEF in 2013 because she believes that advocacy and everyone's participation are essential for advancing society, as well as the well-being and the rights of all. Justine has specialized in digital youth engagement, convinced that they are powerful actors of change. Her leitmotiv? "The tree that falls makes more noise than the forest that grows": let's make the growing forest heard!.
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