A report out today shows the toll of malnutrition on the world's youngest, with half a billion children at risk of permanent damage due to malnutrition in the next 15 years.
The report from Save the Children, “A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition,” details the widespread problem of chronic malnutrition which leaves children susceptible to childhood diseases and at further risk when acute malnutrition hits.
“Malnutrition is a largely hidden crisis, but it afflicts one in four children around the world,” said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. “It wreaks lifelong damage and is a major killer of children. Every hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition.”
“It’s time for a paradigm shift. The world can no longer afford to wait until visibly emaciated children grab headlines to inspire the action these children need and deserve. Unfortunately for millions of the world’s chronically malnourished children, permanent damage to their physical and intellectual development is not as obvious, and so it’s too often overlooked,” said Miles.
“Investment in agriculture is clearly important to making sure production keeps up with a growing population,” said Miles. “But let’s not forget, right now the world produces enough food to feed everybody, and yet one third of children in developing countries are malnourished. Clearly, just growing more food is not the answer.”
Assumpta Ndumi, anutrition expert who runs programs in East Africa with Save the Children, writes today on Al Jazeera:
The solutions are clear, proven and cheap. Making sure babies are breastfed properly and ensuring that children's foods are fortified with basic vitamins and minerals can have an instant and dramatic impact on their health. Targeting the poorest with special help and ensuring they have access to health-care has equally dramatic positive results.
But none of this will happen on its own. Without the political will to stamp out chronic malnutrition, such knowledge will not benefit those who need it most and the world's poorest will once again be left behind.
We know what we can do if the momentum is there. The four million children a year whose lives have already been saved by international efforts to stamp out child mortality are living, breathing testament to what can be achieved if the issue is confronted head-on.
But to date, malnutrition has not yet had the same benefit of high-profile campaigning and investment as the other major drivers of child mortality, like HIV/AIDS, lack of access to vaccines and malaria. We cannot allow this imbalance to continue. The time for action has come.
The report outlines six measures to combat the problem including harnessing agriculture to help tackle malnutrition with governments supporting small-scale farmers and female farmers, and filling the health worker gap to supporing health workers and deploying them where they are most needed.