A national study has shown that Somali women and children are suffering from shocking levels of anaemia and Vitamin A deficiencies.
According to the study published on Friday by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis of Somalia (FSNAU), about 50 percent of all women, 30 percent of all school aged children and 60 percent of children fewer than five were classified as anaemic. "Anaemia in Somalia is caused by a range of factors including frequent exposure to diseases which are often untreated, and the consumption of predominantly cereal based diets, which are missing key vitamins and minerals," Grainne Moloney, interim Chief Technical Adviser of the FSNAU.
The results also show that one third of all children and half of adult women have Vitamin A deficiency.
Although children may seem healthy as they are not very thin, these underlying deficiencies mean these children are still malnourished.
The required nutrient rich foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, vegetables and fruits foods are often too expensive for poor households to buy and the problem is further exacerbated by inadequate health care and sanitation, disease and a lack of appropriate infant and young child feeding," Moloney said, adding that the levels of anaemia in Somalia are amongst the highest in Africa."
In conflict situations such as Somalia, the report says, the collapse of the health system and frequent displacement also contributes to micronutrient deficiencies. "Anaemia in children can delay both physical and intellectual growth; lead to increased risk of infectious diseases and an increased risk of death," it says. "In women, anaemia can lead to poor foetal development and birth complications during pregnancy, as well as an increased risk of infectious diseases and death."
Anaemia can be easily treated with a combined package of good nutrition and good health including: early treatment of childhood illness, consumption of foods high in iron such as red meat, iron supplementation, de-worming, food fortification and reducing intake of foods such as tea, which can inhibit absorption of iron.
Vitamin A deficiency is well known to cause night blindness, but more importantly, can increase the risk of mortality from childhood diseases such as measles.
However research has shown that where a population is at risk of Vitamin A deficiency, such as Somalia, supplementation reduces mortality in children 6 month to 5 years of age by up to 23 percent.
Unexpectedly, the report also shows that levels of iodine deficiency were not of concern, in fact high levels were reported across both school aged and adult women populations.
The study was conducted in Somalia between March and August 2009 led by the FSNAU and Food and Agriculture Organization