Syria's Refugee Children Face Rising Risk Of Malnutrition
December 6, 2013
Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — At first glance, Amira looks like a docile little infant cradled in the protective arms of her teenage sister. But Amira is not an infant. The 2-year-old weighs a mere 14 pounds, about half of what a child her age should weigh, and is too weak to walk. Her fragile condition at such an early age puts her health at grave risk, as the first 1,000 days of a child's life are the most critical period of development.
Amira was recently diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition during a nutrition screening of 1,000 Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) staff is seeking out refugee children at risk of malnutrition. Through the support of UNICEF, IOCC community health workers are evaluating the health of refugee children by measuring the upper arm circumference using a small tape. Children with this life-threatening condition immediately begin treatment to improve their condition. They are fed specially formulated high-protein, high-calorie foods and milk to boost rapid weight gain, which can make a critical difference in the development of a young child.
Amira, who has Down's syndrome, is one of a growing number of Syrian refugee children suffering from malnutrition brought on by a lack of food and harsh living conditions in the makeshift refugee tents that dot Lebanon's rural areas. Many of the refugee families arrive in Lebanon penniless with no access to regular meals or proper shelter, putting their children's health at risk as they struggle to survive. In Amira's case, her father has been unable to find a job in the year and a half since he brought his family to Lebanon from Syria's embattled Idlib region, and her mother's monthly earnings of $100 as a custodian can't buy enough food to feed their seven children. They must rely on monthly humanitarian food parcels to keep from going hungry.
The screenings and treatment are part of a larger effort by IOCC, a member of the ACT Alliance, to ensure the health and well-being of Syria's youngest refugees. Working in partnership with Lebanon's Ministry of Public Health and local institutions, IOCC is training health care providers and community health workers to screen and treat malnutrition. Community educators are working in Syrian refugee settlements to teach mothers about the importance of nutrition and encourage breastfeeding practices in times of emergency.
"These young children have so many odds against them living as refugees in the worst of conditions, and not being properly nourished only magnifies their suffering," said Linda Shaker-Berbari, IOCC Country Representative for Lebanon. "This is the first time that Lebanon has had to respond to nutrition problems of this magnitude and IOCC is working with existing public health organizations to ensure that the country as a whole is prepared to intervene and prevent the suffering of vulnerable children."
More than 100 Syrian refugee children suffering from malnutrition have been identified by IOCC's team and provided with life-saving treatment. The goal is to screen 60,000 Syrian refugee children under the age of five for malnutrition by the beginning of 2014 to provide those like Amira with the nourishment they need to grow and thrive.
Since March 2012, more than 890,000 Syrian people displaced in their own country or living as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan Iraq and Armenia have received humanitarian assistance through IOCC with the support of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 140 churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy.
Amira, 2, weighs only 14 pounds, half of what children in her age category should weigh. Malnutrition is on the rise among Syria's youngest refugees. IOCC, with support from UNICEF, is working to screen 60,000 at-risk Syrian refugee children under the age of five, the most vulnerable age group. photo: Ryan Erickson/IOCC
IOCC community health workers evaluate the health of refugee children by measuring the upper arm circumference using a small tape measure with green, yellow and red ranges. A child whose arm measures in the red range suffers from severe malnutrition. IOCC has already identified 100 malnourished children in the 1,000 they have screened, and is providing a treatment of specially formulated foods to improve their condition. photo: Ryan Erickson/IOCC
A Syrian refugee child suffering from malnutrition receives a therapeutic feeding of specially formulated nut paste from IOCC community health workers. High-protein, high-calorie foods and milk are used to boost rapid weight gain, which can make a critical difference in the development of a young child. photo: Ryan Erickson/IOCC
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IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. Since its inception in 1992, IOCC has delivered $438 million in relief and development programs to families and communities in more than 50 countries. IOCC is a member of the ACT Alliance, and of InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.–based secular and faith-based organizations working to improve the lives of the world's most poor and vulnerable populations. To learn more about IOCC, visit www.iocc.org.