WHO nutrition experts support health sector response to large influx of refugees and migrants in Serbia

WHO/Zoran Dukic

With specific focus on the nutrition of infants and children, a joint WHO/Europe and WHO headquarters team of experts in nutrition and health visited Serbia to assess these aspects related to the influx of refugees/migrants and the country's capacity to respond to the emerging needs. The visit was coordinated with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and included a UNICEF headquarters senior expert in nutrition.

The joint expert team visited the refugee/migrants reception centre in Presevo, south Serbia, and the refugee aid point in Miratovac, the first entry point at the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. They conducted a series of meetings with national stakeholders at both national and local levels, as well as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Based on the identified needs of the refugee/migrant population, policy papers with recommendations and guidelines will be developed and shared with the Serbian Ministry of Health and the Institute of Public Health of Serbia.

The team facilitated an orientation on minimum global standards on nutrition in emergencies, relevant in this crisis for public health experts aimed at strengthening national capacities to respond to the situation. The national public health system, coordinated by the WHO Country Office in partnership with the Ministry of Health, will support the nutrition response.

Inadequate nutrition can increase vulnerability to acute health problems and noncommunicable diseases, especially among older people and children. For infants, even in emergency situations, the aim should be to create and sustain an environment that encourages breastfeeding of children up to at least 2 years of age, and appropriate support to non-breastfed infants. In addition, the critical window of development up to 2 years of age needs to be addressed through appropriate complementary feeding.