UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) announced on Thursday the launch of a three-year partnership to support Ethiopia in preventing acute malnutrition in children and mothers, and provide school-based nutrition and health services.

The first-of-its-kind partnership was deemed vital as malnutrition levels are likely to be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing desert locust infestation, and persistent climate-related crises such as floods and droughts.

This year 4.4 million people in the East African country require treatment for severe and acute malnutrition – 2.7 million children and 1.7 million pregnant and breastfeeding women, a joint press release by UNICEF and WFP said.

“Both agencies believe that sustained and intensive action is required, combining school and community-based prevention activities with expanded access to treatment for children and mothers with acute malnutrition in selected hotspot woredas (districts),” it read.

This approach would help Ethiopia move towards the goal of decreasing acute malnutrition in children from nearly 10% to less than 3% by 2030, the communique added.

The initiative, according to the statement, targets 100 of the most vulnerable districts in Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples, Somali and Tigray regions.

The two agencies, it said, aimed to support the government in increasing knowledge and change for the better the feeding practices of pregnant and breastfeeding women, caregivers and adolescents.

They also aim to deploy and scale up at least three innovations and research on preventing acute malnutrition, provide health and nutrition information to at least 600 schools, and provide school feeding to 200,000 children in Afar and Somali regions.

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