Aid organisations redouble efforts amid 47% rise in child malnutrition

By Hamza

A Save the Children nutrition counsellor explains to a mother, 22, how to feed her 11-month-old daughter with therapeutic food (which is used to treat severe acute malnutrition) at a mobile clinic in her remote community in Sar-e-Pul province on September 29. [Sacha Myers/Save the Children]

A Save the Children nutrition counsellor explains to a mother, 22, how to feed her 11-month-old daughter with therapeutic food (which is used to treat severe acute malnutrition) at a mobile clinic in her remote community in Sar-e-Pul province on September 29. [Sacha Myers/Save the Children]

KABUL -- The number of children admitted to Save the Children's mobile health clinics with severe malnutrition has increased by 47% since January, the aid organisation said.

A number of infants have died in clinics before receiving treatment.

"Demand for malnutrition treatment services has surged in recent months as families struggle to cope with Afghanistan's worst hunger crisis on record," Save the Children said in a statement October 31.

"In January, Save the Children's 57 mobile health teams admitted about 2,500 malnourished children for treatment. By September, that number had jumped to around 4,270 children," the statement said.

A mother sits on a hospital bed with her four-month-old twins Subhania and Subhan in the malnutrition ward at the Boost Hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in Lashkargah, Helmand province, on July 21. [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

A mother sits on a hospital bed with her four-month-old twins Subhania and Subhan in the malnutrition ward at the Boost Hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in Lashkargah, Helmand province, on July 21. [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

The summer harvest failed to help the situation, as the ongoing drought led to failed crops and reduced harvests, with many rural families forced to sell land and livestock to buy food to feed their children, it said.

Further, the collapse of the country's economy has caused unemployment, poverty and food prices to skyrocket.

"Many families [are] now only surviving on bread and water for weeks at a time," the statement said.

"Humanitarian organisations have provided vast amounts of life-saving food, but the needs are so high that 50% of Afghanistan's population is still facing extreme hunger, with ... 6 million children and adults -- nearly one-eighth of the population -- one step away from famine," Save the Children said.

Since September 2021, the aid organisation has reached more than 3.3 million people, including 1.8 million children. It currently has 66 mobile health clinics across various provinces in Afghanistan that provide nutrition support services to dangerously malnourished children.

But more aid is needed to meet the demands of the crisis.

"We are planning to expand our mobile services in addition to establishing permanent health clinics to provide nutrition support to more Afghan children," Ashiqullah Mandozai, spokesperson for Save the Children in Afghanistan, told Salaam Times.

Causes of malnutrition

Poverty has increased to an unprecedented degree in Afghanistan since August 2021, and 90% of households do not have sufficient food to eat, according to United Nations organisations.

There are several main factors impacting children's malnutrition, said Dr. Mohammad Salem Mayar, a specialist in internal medicine and pediatrics in Kabul.

For example, if mothers do not eat nutritious food during their pregnancy, their children might be born malnourished, he said.

In addition, some infectious diseases can cause malnutrition, he said.

"Data indicate that 80% of households do not give sufficient and nutritious food to their children," Mayar said. "In most cases, they are not aware of the malnutrition symptoms, so they do not take precautionary preventive measures."

Poverty and hunger in Afghanistan have exacerbated malnutrition among children, he added.

"There are as many as 1,300 health centres across Afghanistan's 34 provinces to treat malnutrition among children," said Dr. Homayoun Ludin, a senior advisor with Management Sciences for Health, a US-based nongovernmental organisation.

"We are closely co-ordinating our efforts with various international organisations," he said.

"With funding support from the World Bank and donor countries, over 390,000 malnourished children have received treatment from January through September from international organisations such as UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund], Save the Children, Action Against Hunger, the Swedish Committee [for Afghanistan], ADA [Afghan Development Association], and Aga Khan Health Service," Ludin said.

These organisations have recruited more than 2,000 health workers, including physicians and nurses, and many have been deployed to Afghanistan's various provinces, to serve as advisers on nutrition.

"In addition to treating malnourished children, they advise mothers on the best approaches to prevent their children from becoming malnourished," Ludin said.

"As many as 200 mobile health clinics have been established to provide support for malnourished children across the country," he said.

"In total, 600,000 children are expected to be treated for malnutrition with support from international organisations by the end of 2022," he added.

Need for further assistance

Mothers whose children are malnourished due to poverty and the country's ongoing economic problems have urged aid organisations to continue providing lifesaving assistance.

Halima, a mother of seven from Logar province, brought one of her sons to the Children's Hospital in Kabul on October 31.

She said he has been suffering from malnutrition for seven months.

"My husband is unemployed and we are poor," she said. "We cannot afford to take our child to a private hospital. We demand more help."

Qandi Gul, of Parwan province, brought her three-month-old malnourished granddaughter to the Children's Hospital in Kabul the same day.

"My son is unemployed and his wife did not have access to nutritious food during her pregnancy, so my granddaughter was born malnourished," she said.

The infant is now receiving free treatment in the hospital.

"Our people are very poor, and cannot afford to buy nutritious food, so our children suffer from stunted growth," Qandi Gul said, calling on donor organisations to provide additional support.

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Until people do not get jobs and are not self-sufficient, I don't think the help from the organizations will be of lasting benefit to the people. Helmand and Afghanistan are prosperous regions, but unfortunately, the wars have ruined them. Businesses faced difficulties, people died, and some were injured. Once, I read in Salaam Times or any other media outlet quoting the Red Cross who has said that they had made artificial legs and arms for more than 7,000 people in Helmand province alone within a year. Think about the people of a country who have suffered so much, and yet neither the neighbouring countries nor the world's superpowers have mercy on them, so what do you think will happen to them? Some ignorant people have a terrible idea about Afghans, but they do not see that the Afghans have not harmed anyone. Afghans have always been peaceful people. After the time of Ahmad Shah Abdali (May his soul rest in peace), he attacked India, and he attacked because the Hindus were oppressing the Muslims there; Afghans have not invaded any foreign country again. After that, Britain invaded Afghanistan three times and killed many Afghans. Then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, killing countless people. And 20 years ago, America invaded Afghanistan and killed many people. We do not want such charity from organizations. Russians and Americans call themselves human rights defenders, but they have violated our country. We want compensation from Russia and America for their aggressions


Thanks to the partner organizations and the increment in the percentage of malnourished children, they have doubled their assistance. If help is not given, the situation can get worse. As an Afghan, I am grateful to them in this challenging situation and ask for their continuous cooperation. If they would not help the Afghan children, then the internal situation of Afghanistan is not at a level to pay attention to them. Another important thing is that Afghan children are now suffering from a situation beyond their control (they perform heavy tasks) that are neither physically nor mentally suited to them. I wish their fathers or family members would be provided jobs so the children's lives get protected, they get safe from various diseases, and their future brightens. Thanks again to the donors. I wish you more success and good intentions.


As long as mothers and fathers would not take precautions during the birth of children, this situation will continue, and this number will increase daily. It is better to be careful, and at least two to three years' time distance should be observed between the birth of two children, but unfortunately, the engagement of our people is equal to zero. They are waiting for a woman and her husband to get together and give birth to a new child nine months later, who does not bring food or clothes. According to the information of the Ministry of Health of Afghanistan, about one million children were born in the last year. So how will they get food, water and clothes regularly when most people do not have work? If you want a healthy life and a promising future, take care of having children.


It is a fact that the poor people of Afghanistan do not have food to eat. Drought is another challenge that people far away from the cities of our country are suffering from. They don't even have simple bread to eat. Because the mother and child don't eat properly, the innocent child will get sick from malnutrition. Pregnant women are not given any attention in Afghanistan. Pregnant women are not allowed to do difficult work in the families which also has a negative effect on the children. The United Nations or an aid organization should launch a program in the provinces of Afghanistan and provide counseling to the pregnant women, because no single pregnant woman in the villages has enough information about what to do during pregnancy. I ask the United Nations to provide serious to the infants so that innocent children do not end up being malnourished.