Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Generation Nutrition: We have the knowledge to stop children dying from Acute Malnutrition NOW

Last week, a new campaign, Generation Nutrition, was launched in the UK parliament calling for an end to child deaths from undernutrition.

Currently, child deaths from undernutrition represent 45 per cent of all under five deaths, something this campaign aims to address. There is no doubt about the overwhelming progress made in terms of child survival. The under 5 mortality rate has almost halved in the last 25 years, from 12 million children dying before their 5th birthday in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012 (WHO). However progress to reduce child deaths from undernutrition, especially severe acute malnutrition, has stagnated in many countries. Undernutrition is different from hunger, and requires a separate and targeted approach. 

Using community based management to treat acute malnutrition

One in 12 children in the world suffer from acute malnutrition, which is a potentially life threatening condition caused by a number of factors acting together including a lack of food, poor sanitation, and disease. However, recent years have witnessed major progress in terms of our ability to treat severe acute malnutrition. Using community based management of acute malnutrition, most children can be treated as outpatients, affordably and effectively. Despite this, treatment is still not reaching most children.

Director of Food and Nutrition at the Ministry of Health, Sierra Leone, Aminata Shamit Koroma spoke about the high levels of severe acute malnutrition in Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone 7 per cent of children under five suffer from severe acute malnutrition. She hopes that Generation Nutrition will support the country to reach the goal they have set for themselves, to reduce rates of undernutrition to 2 per cent by 2020. She talked about how community management of acute malnutrition programmes were initially introduced in only 20 health centres in four districts but now they are operating in 423 centres, out of 1200 health centres in the country and they are hoping that by the end of this year they will be able to increase that number to 600.

Power of political will and civil society in pushing this agenda forward

At the campaign launch event, we heard from Jean-Michel Grand, Executive director of Action Against Hunger UK. He highlighted that despite the fact that we know what needs to be done, and that treatment has been shown to have an 84% per cent success rate, only 1 in 10 children are who need treatment can access it. Grand emphasised the importance of political will in addressing undernutrition and called on governments to move away from viewing acute malnutrition as only a humanitarian issue.

Jane Edmonson, Head of Human Development at the Department for International Development (DFID), spoke about DFID’s investment in programmes to prevent and treat severe acute malnutrition in many countries (including Malawi, Ethiopia, and Kenya). On this subject, she talked of the importance of civil society for holding DFID to its promises in reducing acute malnutrition worldwide.

Augustin Flory, head of Nutrition at the Child’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) highlighted the long-term consequences of malnutrition for an individual. Ultimately, a malnourished child will likely attend fewer years of school, earn less as an adult and will be less lively to escape poverty. This not only impacts an individual, but also the family and even a nation.

Almost a million children die each year from malnutrition, we can be the generation to end this, if we act now. Learn more and sign the petition.

by Kat Pittore