Malnutrition, anemia and disease plague Rohingya refugee children – UNICEF

December 22, 2017

  Nutrition surveys point to public health crisis for children in refugee camps and informal settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

NEW YORK (December 22, 2017) – Rohingya refugee children who have fled Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh are suffering from acute malnutrition, anaemia and disease, UNICEF said today.

According to three health and nutrition surveys conducted between October 22 and November 27 in refugee camps and makeshift settlements, up to 25 per cent of children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition, far exceeding the WHO emergency threshold of 15 per cent. Nearly half the children surveyed have anaemia, up to 40 per cent have diarrhoea, and up to 60 per cent have acute respiratory infections.

“We now have a comprehensive picture of the nutritional status of Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar and unfortunately, our worst fears have been confirmed,” said UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder. “Refugee children who have already endured unimaginable suffering in fleeing their homes are now facing a public health crisis.”   

The surveys covered the refugee camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara and informal settlements in Ukhia and Teknaf, and included a sample size of more than 1,700 newly arrived refugee children as well as already registered refugee children. Its findings include:

  • 1 in 4 children in Kutupalong are acutely malnourished, nearly half are anemic, 40 per cent have diarrhea and more than half have acute respiratory infections.
  • Among newly arrived children in Nayapara camp, 16 per cent are malnourished, close to 50 per cent are anemic, 40 per cent have diarrhea and 1 in 2 have acute respiratory infections.
  • In the makeshift and informal settlements, 1 in 5 children is malnourished, almost 1 in 2 has anemia, 2 in 5 have diarrhea, and close to 3 in 5 suffer from acute respiratory infections.
  • The nutrition crisis is most pronounced in Kutupalong refugee camp and the makeshift settlements which have both the highest rates of acute malnutrition and the largest number of newly arrived Rohingya refugees. Severe acute malnutrition rates are highest in Kutupalong at 7.5 per cent, followed by 3 per cent in the makeshift settlements and 1.3 per cent in the Nayapara refugee camp.
  • Less than 16 per cent of children are consuming a minimal acceptable diet which is critical for their optimal growth and development, and 30 per cent of children below six months are not exclusively breastfed.


“The combination of malnutrition, diarrhea and infection can make children especially vulnerable,” said Beigbeder. “Humanitarian organizations on the ground have already expanded capacity to treat children with acute malnutrition, but efforts must be ramped up to ensure that these children have access to suitable diets, clean water and healthcare.”

UNICEF is working with partners to improve conditions for refugee children. So far, UNICEF and partners have treated nearly 7,000 severely malnourished children, administered almost 900,000 doses of the cholera vaccine, and immunized nearly 450,000 children against measles and rubella. A Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td) vaccination campaign has been launched to address the diphtheria outbreak in the camps and the settlements.

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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. UNICEF USA supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information, contact: 
Sophie Aziakou, UNICEF USA, 917.720.1397, saziakou@unicefusa.org
Erica Vogel, UNICEF USA, 917.892.5962, evogel@unicefusa.org