HOUNDE, Burkina Faso – Coronavirus and its restrictions are pushing already-hungry communities over the edge, killing an estimated 10,000 more young children a month as meager farms are cut off from markets and as villages are isolated from food and medical aid, the United Nations warned Monday.
In the call to action shared with The Associated Press ahead of publication, four U.N. agencies warned that growing malnutrition would have long-term consequences, transforming individual tragedies into a generational catastrophe.
Hunger is already stalking Haboue Solange Boue, an infant from Burkina Faso who lost half her former body weight of 5.5 pounds in just a month. Coronavirus restrictions closed the markets, and her family sold fewer vegetables. Her mother was too malnourished to nurse.
“My child,” Danssanin Lanizou whispered, choking back tears as she unwrapped a blanket to reveal her baby's protruding ribs.
More than 550,000 additional children each month are being struck by what is called wasting, according to the U.N. – malnutrition that manifests in spindly limbs and distended bellies. Over a year, that's up 6.7 million from last year's total of 47 million. Wasting and stunting can permanently damage children physically and mentally.
“The food security effects of the COVID crisis are going to reflect many years from now,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, the WHO head of nutrition. “There is going to be a societal effect.”
From Latin America to South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa, more poor families than ever are staring down a future without enough food. In April, World Food Program head David Beasley warned that the coronavirus economy would cause global famines “of biblical proportions” this year. There are different stages of what is known as food insecurity; famine is officially declared when, along with other measures, 30% of the population suffers from wasting.
The World Food Program estimated in February that 1 in 3 Venezuelans was already going hungry as inflation rendered salaries nearly worthless and forced millions to flee abroad. Then the virus arrived.
“Every day we receive a malnourished child,” said Dr. Francisco Nieto, who works in a hospital in the border state of Tachira.
The leaders of four international agencies – the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization – have called for at least $2.4 billion immediately to address global hunger. But even more than lack of money, restrictions on movement have prevented families from seeking treatment, said Victor Aguayo, the head of UNICEF's nutrition program.
“By having schools closed, by having primary health care services disrupted, by having nutritional programs dysfunctional, we are also creating harm,” Aguayo said. He cited as an example the near-global suspension of Vitamin A supplements, a crucial way to bolster developing immune systems.