29 May 2015

SEATTLE — Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011 between forces supporting Syrian president Bashir Al Assad and rebel forces, many Syrians have been forced to flee their homes in an attempt to escape the conflict. About 7 million Syrians have been displaced. Of the displaced, 4.2 million remain in Syria and 2.5 million have fled to neighboring countries, including Jordan and Lebanon.

Syrians fled their homes in order to avoid the poverty and fighting that they had been facing, but since the countries they fled to are not equipped to deal with such a large refugee population, many Syrians end up suffering even after they escape the war zone. Along with the poverty that refugees face comes malnutrition. Malnutrition is caused by not having enough food to eat and therefore not attaining proper nutrients, but, as UNICEF states, it is also connected to poor hygiene, contaminated drinking water, diseases, lack of immunization and improper feeding practices for children and infants. Malnutrition has an especially negative impact on children from conception to the age of 2, since it can lead to irreversible mental and physical defects. WFP statistics show that many of the Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, almost 2,000 of them, are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. If they are not treated immediately, they will die. Another 8,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are suffering from less severe forms of malnutrition. The WFP also states that about 4 percent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan under the age of 5 need treatment for moderate or acute malnutrition. In the main refugee camp in Jordan, Za’atari, 17 percent of children face chronic malnutrition. Another problem that many refugees face that helps exacerbate malnutrition is that many of them have lost their support systems. Rural Syrian women marry at a young age and rely on relatives to help them raise their children. Since the war has displaced many people, many Syrians no longer have that assistance from their families. This can lead to mothers who do not know how to properly breastfeed their children, causing more cases of malnutrition. Malnutrition is also a problem for displaced persons who remain in Syria. Fighting has limited their access to food and healthcare, and dirty drinking water leads to many diseases, include diarrhea, which can worsen malnutrition. These diseases also weaken immune systems, making those inflicted with the diseases more likely to become sick again later on. Syrian refugees are also at risk for anemia, a condition where the oxygen carrying capacity of red-blood cells or number of red blood cells are inadequate. Anemia is associated with fatigue, dizziness, and drowsiness. In Za’atari alone, 48.4 percent of children under the age of 5 and 44.8 percent of child-bearing age women are suffering from anemia. To a lesser degree, anemia also impacts refugees in Lebanon; 21 percent of Syrian refugee children under the age of 5 and 26.1 perrcent of Syrian refugee women of child-bearing age are inflicted with anemia. The WFP have enacted some programs in order to help reduce malnutrition. They have distributed Super Cereal Plus to children under the age of five and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in Za’atari. Four months of treatment with Super Cereal Plus is enough to help patients who were suffering from moderate acute malnutrition. The WFP has also established a food voucher program to help about half a million Syrian refugees purchase food. While programs and aid such as those given by the WFP have helped, malnutrition still remains prevalent among Syrian refugee populations. As the CDC states, one key way to help reduce the still high level of malnutrition is to focus on public health programs related to improving hygiene and sanitation, and to help refugees gain full access to fortified flour products. (Courtesy of The Borgen Project)
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