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Integrated Regional Information Network
Southern Africa: More children going hungry

May 5, 2006
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 5 May 2006 (IRIN) - According to a report released this week by Unicef, the UN children's agency, HIV/AIDS is contributing to continuing high rates of malnutrition among children in Southern African countries.

Rather than making progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing hunger by half, the study, 'Progress for Children: a Report Card on Nutrition', found that the number of underweight children in the region has actually increased over the past 15 years.

Researchers attributed the slowing or reversing of positive trends in combating child malnutrition in the early 1990s to the impact of HIV/AIDS combined with drought-related food crises.

The proportion of underweight children in Lesotho and Zimbabwe, for example, was higher in 2004 than in 1990, while in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia one out of every five children is now underweight.

Despite having the second highest adult HIV prevalence rate in the world, Botswana is the only country in the region on track for reaching the MDG target. Swaziland, with the highest HIV prevalence, has also managed to reduce the proportion of underweight children to 10 percent, the lowest in the region.

However, the report noted that these results could have been skewed by increased child mortality in the two countries as a result of malnutrition combined with HIV.

South Africa, the wealthiest country in the region, has seen its proportion of underweight children rise by an average of 5.6 percent a year since 1994/95. The country also has the region's lowest prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding, a highly beneficial practice in the first six months of life.