Syria’s Refugee Children Face Rising Risk of Malnutrition
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.
The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) continue to offer support for the work of many partners in the region to provide humanitarian response to the needs of Syrian refugees. Please consider supporting the work of Global Ministries’ partners’ relief efforts in and around Syria. You can do that through One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC), the Week of Compassion (Disciples), or through Global Ministries directly.