A POVERTY-INDUCED disease previously unknown in Zimbabwe threatens the lives of 500 000 children as levels of malnutrition have increased sharply over the past two years due to the country’s pro
longed economic crisis.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) discovered through a survey carried out in February the existence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) which affected 5% of children under the age of five.
This comes after a more than 50% drop in the provision of immunisation to children under five compared to the period before 2000.
GAM is a combination of massive wasting in children as well as a situation called odeama, which is the swelling of the neck and stomach.
The disease results from lack of sufficient food with the right nutrients in the body, a situation thousands of children face, especially in the rural areas of Zimbabwe.
In Africa the disease has existed only in war and famine-ravaged countries such as Ethiopia, Liberia and Rwanda. It is the first time that it has been detected in Zimbabwe.
Nikolina Drysdale, an official of Unicef in Harare, told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that there was a serious misconception about the symptoms of GAM in Zimbabwe. She said if not treated early enough the affected child eventually dies from the disease.
“There is a serious misconception regarding the disease. People take a child with a puff top or a swollen stomach to be fat and think it’s okay,” Drysdale said. “The puff top and swollen stomach arise from the accumulation of excess water because of severe malnutrition. If the child is not treated, it may die.”
The performance of an affected child’s heart drastically reduces because of a huge deficit in the supply of energy that should be derived from nutrients accessed by the body.