Protecting Syria's Youngest Refugees From Malnutrition

Volume 18, No. 1 | Winter 2015

Malnutrition & Syrian Youth Refugees

Melhem, 4, was withering away from a poor diet and loss of appetite when IOCC health workers encountered him last summer. Melhem's parents, who fled with him from Syria to safety in Lebanon, arrived with little money to buy their son nourishing food and worried daily about his well-being. Melhem was diagnosed with acute malnutrition during an IOCC health screening of Syrian refugee children living near Mount Lebanon. Left unchecked, the little boy faced a slow, painful death.

(Photos by Tiziana Cauli/IOCC)

Malnutrition carries serious health consequences for a young child, particularly those under five. Being deprived of important nutrients can hinder physical growth, impair vision and stunt brain development. Malnutrition is also linked to nearly half of all childhood deaths. Thousands of Syria's refugee children in Lebanon face this deadly threat every day. In cooperation with UNICEF, IOCC is working to prevent, screen, and treat malnutrition in Syria's refugee children as well as improve infant and young child feeding practices among Syrian refugee women in Lebanon. In addition to assisting children, the IOCC nutrition surveillance program is also providing nutrition training to staff in Lebanon's healthcare centers, and an awareness campaign that has educated more than 13,000 new and expectant mothers about emergency nutrition and breastfeeding.

Three months after an IOCC regimen of eating specially formulated high-protein, high-calorie foods and milk to boost rapid weight gain, Melhem's cheeks are round again and his once bony limbs have filled out from the added pounds. IOCC health workers will continue to monitor Melhem in the near future to make sure he keeps the weight on. More than 32,370 refugee kids have been screened for malnutrition and 770 undernourished children like Melhem have been successfully treated by IOCC since 2013.