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Summary of the Meeting of the Working Group on Nutrition in Emergencies

by Annalies Borrel

The 26th ACC/SCN meeting was held from the 8th to 15th of April in Geneva. The Working Group on Nutrition in Emergencies, made up of NGO, bilateral and UN agency members and some members of the AGN, met to discuss nutritional issues in emergencies on Sunday April 11th. Two of the agenda items were the evolution of nutrition responses in emergencies since 1976 and the impact of the recent crisis in Southern Sudan on adolescents and adults.

Dr. Mike Toole (Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research, Australia) gave an overview of the trends in nutrition assistance programmes in emergencies between 1976 and 1999. Dr. Toole prefaced his presentation by saying that although the quality of nutritional assistance has improved considerably in the last two decades, some problems still persist such as the continuing outbreaks of micro nutrients deficiency disorders. Furthermore, the rapidly changing geopolitical context had raised new challenges in the provision of adequate food aid.

Key milestones in nutritional assistance in emergencies were identified and summarised.

These included the following:

Some unresolved issues which urgently need to be addressed were summarised as: assessment and management of acute malnutrition in adolescents and adults; prevention of vitamin C deficiency in large African food aid dependent populations and the management of anaemia among severely malnourished children.

Dr. Peter Salama (Medical co-ordinator for emergencies, Concern Worldwide) presented background information and a case study to highlight the ongoing lack of attention to adult and adolescent malnutrition in nutritional emergencies.

The experience of Somalia (1992-93) and Angola (1993-94) led to recognition of the need to develop anthropometric indices and treatment protocols for adult malnutrition. A case study was presented on the situation in Ajiep, Bahr el Ghazal in southern Sudan in 1998. In this situation where there were some 18 NGOs operating over 50 Supplementary Feeding Programmes (SFPs) and 21 Therapeutic Feeding Programmes (TFPs), not one of these programmes was tailored for adolescents and adults. Concern established adult and adolescent therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes. Two key conclusions that were drawn from the presentation were: (i) that towards the end of a severe famine, adult and adolescent malnutrition is frequently a significant health problem and (ii) that with the correct treatment and management of malnutrition, even the most emaciated individuals can survive.

Dr Salama recommended that there was a need for (i) programmes to target adult and adolescent malnutrition and that these conditions should be systematically investigated as part of any relief response and (ii) an inter-agency working group on adult and adolescent malnutrition in order to:

The SCN agreed that it would take on responsibility for following-up specific recommendations on adult and adolescent malnutrition.

For further information contact: ACC/SCN, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. e-mail: accscn@who.ch Web: http://www.unsystem.org/accscn/

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Annalies Borrel (1999). Summary of the Meeting of the Working Group on Nutrition in Emergencies. Field Exchange 8, November 1999. p13. www.ennonline.net/fex/8/summary

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