By Tamara Abu Sham
Aleppo, 22 December 2014 – Khaled was born in eastern Aleppo two months before the onset of the Syrian crisis in March 2011.He joined a family of two brothers and four sisters. He weighed a healthy 3.8 kg at birth. With the escalation of armed conflict, Khaled’s family fled the conflict to the Western part of Aleppo city in search of safety. Khaled himself was just a year and seven months old at the time.
As the conflict continued, the family remained displaced, with no income to rely on and uncertainty about their future. Khaled’s mother experienced emotional stress: “I stopped breast feeding Khaled. I felt bad as the living conditions became dire and my milk had stopped. While trying to cope with the life-changing crisis, a recurring question for me was: ’how do we feed the four girls and three boys?’’.
As breastfeeding and essential food supplements were not available, Khaled started to suffer from consistent diarrhea and dehydration for more than a year. His parents did not understand what was going on or how to seek support.
By the age of three, Khaled weighed just 6 kg. He was little more than skin and bones. A child who had received the appropriate nutrition and did not face the stress associated with displacement would be in the region of 13 kg. When a UNICEF partner reached him, Khaled was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, a life threatening condition and stunting, a chronic form of malnutrition.
UNICEF partner, health care NGO Al Taalouf treated Khaled over seven months and provided his mother with nutritional support, medicine and advice. Overtime, Khaled’s weight increased from six to 11 kg.
Khalid’s happy end story is unfortunately one of the very few. “The ongoing conflict has aggravated pre-existing nutrition concerns in Syria. Lack of access to nutritious foods, rise in food prices, and a collapse in food production are having disastrous impacts on children’s nutritional needs in Syria. The health and nutrition situation in Syria, particularly for children and women, has become increasingly fragile”, Hanaa Singer, Country Representative of UUNICEF Syria said.
Recent reports from the Syrian Ministry of Health indicate that the global acute malnutrition rate among Syrian children under the age of five years stands at 7.2%. A recent UNICEF-supported assessment of internally displaced families in Syria has indicated that 22 percent of Syrian children suffer from stunting.
In 2014, UNICEF, with support from the United Arab Emirates and other donors, has lead efforts of screening up to 500,000 children for malnutrition. Affected children received immediate treatment and ready to eat nutrition supplements rich with essential vitamins and calcium. Mothers were trained on coping mechanisms and child feeding practices as a way of malnutrition prevention. Treatment facilities’ support has also been provided to health partners to help them handle the increased demand on malnutrition treatment services while only 43 per cent of hospitals are fully functioning.