Nutrition & Food Security

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Hunger kills more people worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and children are the most vulnerable. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases account for 35 percent (3.1 million) of the 8.8 million deaths of children younger than five each year. Malnutrition is a complex problem that can be caused by a lack of adequate food, illness, and poor caring practices – but it is preventable and curable.


Our response

International Medical Corps runs nutrition and food security programmes in some of the world’s most food-stressed areas, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Chad, and Sudan. Our nutrition programmes have a 90 percent success rate, meaning that almost all the malnourished children who come through our programmes recover.

Recognising that malnutrition is not just an issue about food, we address nutrition at every contact point we have with community members from water and sanitation projects, screening during primary health care visits, and provision of therapeutic nutrition care. We work with all levels of government, civil society, and parents to improve their ability to provide the range of activities needed to promote healthy growth and prevent malnutrition in children.


Responding to malnutritionPreventing malnutritionFood security
With decades of expertise in treating malnutrition International Medical Corps now uses a community-based approach to management of acute malnutrition (CMAM). The CMAM model provides:
  • Community outreach and mobilisation for nutrition education, and early detection and prompt referral of malnourished children to available services
  • Minimal inpatient care for severely malnourished children with medical complications
  • Outpatient care for severely malnourished children with no medical complications. This approach reduces the time needed for recovery; the burden on the mother; the cost of running an inpatient program and the child’s exposure to other diseases that can weaken their immunity
  • Supplementary feeding for moderately malnourished children to prevent children from becoming severely malnourished and needing more intensive treatment
Prevention of malnutrition not only reduces the cost of programmes, but more importantly protects children from the devastating long-term effects of malnutrition.

International Medical Corps malnutrition prevention programmes include promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; infant and young child feeding; maternal nutrition; nutrition education; food security programmes that promote food diversity; micronutrient supplementation; the addition of supplemental food during hunger periods; and water, sanitation & hygiene interventions to prevent diarrheal disease and the malnutrition that can result.

To reinforce nutrition messages and create behaviour change in the community, International Medical Corps works with local communities to develop Mother Care Groups. These Groups are led by local female volunteers trained by International Medical Corps that meet on a regular basis with mothers and their young children to:

  • Prevent malnutrition by disseminating nutrition, health, family planning and hygiene information
  • Improve mother/child interaction through methods like infant stimulation
  • Empower mothers and fathers, and their community to take responsibility for the growth and development of their children

In addition, most of the decision-making regarding critical influential behaviours occurs in the home. Thus, International Medical Corps targets health facilities, community leaders, households and individuals to bring positive and lasting changes in attitudes, knowledge and behaviours

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

International Medical Corps’ food security programmes focus on empowering communities and especially women to provide nutritious foods for their families. Our work includes:

  • Support for home gardens to increase diversity and micronutrient content of available foods for families
  • Design and piloting of household food storage capacity so harvested food is properly stored, decreasing food losses and ensuring that families have food to last them
  • Distribution of seeds and tools to help families produce their own food
  • Water projects that assist families in irrigating their gardens; and emergency food distributions for poor families so they do not have to sell assets to purchase food


How our work is transforming lives
Famine in the Horn of Africa
Following the worst droughts to affect the Horn of Africa in more than 60 years and a period of famine declared in parts of Somalia during 2011, more than 2.3 million Somalis are still in need of food assistance. International Medical Corps is working in drought-affected regions throughout Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, as well as the Dolo Ado and Dadaab refugee camps. Our relief programmes are focussed on the nutritional needs of those affected, whilst also providing the health and WASH services crucial to preventing malnutrition.

International Medical Corps is implementing an emergency nutrition programme in the Sool and Sanaag regions of Somaliland to mitigate the effects of drought and improve the nutritional status of children under the age of five.

In the Dolo Ado refugee camps, Ethiopia, we are working with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) to scale up supplementary feeding services for malnourished people, including the provision of nutrient-dense therapeutic foods.

International Medical Corps teams also constructed 136 latrines/washrooms with 200 more planned and have launched a hygiene campaign to thwart the spread of communicable disease in the overcrowded camps.

Similar nutrition and maternal health services are being provided in Kambioos refugee camp, Kenya, a part of the Dadaab Complex which is today the largest refugee camp in the world

Promoting healthy diets in Jordan
Many countries in Africa, Asia and in particular the Middle-East are facing a potential health crisis in the years ahead, as the spiralling number of people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hyper-tension and heart disease threaten to overwhelm developing health systems. In countries such as Jordan, where type 2 diabetes rates are well above 10%, International Medical Corps launched the Healthy Lifestyles Campaign to increase awareness amongst Iraqi refugee and Jordanian communities of the benefits of healthy diets and exercise.

The campaign also directly targeted families at risk of multi-generational ill health to bring about sustainable changes in behaviour that will reduce their chances of developing chronic diseases.Families with one member already diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure were invited on weekend camps to learn and experience healthy lifestyles, promoting improved diets through cookery lessons, joint exercise programmes, supporting smoking cessation and helping all family members understand the risks of chronic diseases.

Darfur, Chad and CAR
Millions have been affected by the interrelated conflicts raging across Darfur, eastern Chad, and northern Central African Republic which have caused massive displacement. The crisis has deprived these uprooted people of the opportunity to cultivate their lands, leaving them entirely dependent on international food aid and causing rampant malnutrition. The breakdown of the health delivery system and the seasonal hunger gap also negatively affect the health and nutritional status of these vulnerable groups.

International Medical Corps’ nutrition programming in this region is integrated into the primary health care system, allowing early detection of malnutrition and referrals to the appropriate program. Traditional Birth Attendants have been trained to provide nutrition education sessions for pregnant and lactating women since early nutrition interventions can often provide the tools to prevent malnutrition.



Just 22 hours after the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit in January 2010, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Haiti providing medical care to survivors. Our doctors and nurses were able to mobilise on an unparalleled scale to provide 24-hour emergency care to the acutely injured at the Hôpital de l’Université d’État d’Haiti (HUEH), a 700-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. HUEH was badly damaged in the earthquake and many local health care professionals were missing. We were able to save thousands of lives through emergency and trauma care in the critical days following the earthquake.

At the height of emergency operations at the hospital, International Medical Corps treated approximately 1,000 patients per day. Our early entry also gave us the foundation to rapidly expand our operations to 15 mobile clinics throughout Haiti to provide critical services. Through the hospital and mobile and fixed clinics, International Medical Corps teams provided more than 110,000 patient consultations during the first year following the emergency.

When reports of acute diarrhoea emerged from the north of Haiti in October 2010, International Medical Corps doctors and nurses immediately deployed to the region providing emergency relief for the growing cholera crisis. Our network of rapidly constructed cholera treatment centres, supported by 820 community health volunteers to educate communities on how to prevent and identify cholera, meant that more than 30,000 cholera patients received life-saving treatment within the first year following the outbreak.



Libya ambulanceInternational Medical Corps was among the first organisations to enter Libya once the conflict began in February 2011, providing emergency medical care to casualties from the fighting and support to hospitals with medical staff and supplies. Among the first challenges our Emergency Response Teams encountered was a chronic shortage of nurses, as thousands of foreign nurses had fled the country. In partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society, International Medical Corps immediately deployed volunteer nurses to health centres across eastern Libya moving them to towns and cities throughout the country as access permitted. Volunteer nurses trained the local counterparts while working alongside them.

At the country’s borders and within Libya, we supplied those displaced by the fighting with essential relief items, including blankets, bottled water and food. Recognising the danger posed by communicable diseases, our sanitation and hygiene specialists constructed latrines and washing stations in transit camps along the Tunisia borders.

Libya 5As the fighting went on International Medical Corps worked as close to the front line as possible, providing emergency treatment to those injured in the conflict, and medicines and supplies to besieged towns and cities. In Misurata, inaccessible by road, we evacuated nearly 500 injured civilians by boat. International Medical Corps’ mobile field hospitals treated the wounded from battles in Tripoli, the Western Mountains, Bani Walid, Sabha, Jufrah and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.



Mali - villagerInternational Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response in Mali in January 2013 after rebel armed forces from the north began moving south, triggering French military intervention. In Timbuktu, which had spent months under the control of armed Islamist rebel our team were amongst the first international organisations to arrive and found pillaged clinics, missing medical personnel and damaged health infrastructure.

We immediately began supporting eight strategically targeted health clinics in remote areas around Timbuktu, where the Malian Ministry of Health has been unable to maintain adequate services to local communities. By providing medicines, training staff and recruiting qualified doctors and nurses, we can ensure local people will now have access to basic primary and secondary health care for the first time in months

Mali-Road-to-TimbuktuTrue to our mission to build self reliance, International Medical Corps is also already training community health workers to go out to local markets and spread essential hygiene, reproductive health and nutrition messages. We are also working to rehabilitate clinics damaged during the conflict, by building or repairing latrines, water systems, solar panel systems and other infrastructure repairs, enabling health workers to have stable and well-equipped facilities to help the people of Mali.


Basanti & Bishal's story

Basanti, a young mother of two in Nepal, returned home from fetching water for her family to find her 8-month old son Bishal had fallen into the open cooking fire. Basanti was in shock, but she wrapped her baby in blankets and ran for help. No one in their village or at the local health post knew what to do so she had to travel more than six hours by bus to seek emergency care at the closest hospital. The district hospital could only stabilize Bishal and wasn’t able to treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist as the burned skin contracted and “healed” over the coming year, making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.

After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Adding to Basanti’s struggles, her husband abandoned the family, leaving her alone to care for Bishal and his four-year-old sister.

Thankfully, Basanti heard about the surgical care available through ReSurge International, our trusted partner with a 43-year history of serving burn victims. Dr. Rai, ReSurge’s Outreach Director in Nepal, and his team restored Bishal’s eyelid and his hand will soon be surgically repaired as well.

Even though it took more than a year for him to get appropriate treatment, Bishal is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of children never get the care they need to live a normal life after a disabling burn.


Our impact through training in 2012



Our Mother Care Group Approach


Read more about our community based approach to prevention and treatment of malnutrition