The Ebola crisis has to date resulted in the loss of 11,315 lives. Malnutrition on the other hand, underlies nearly 3 million deaths year on year; that is over 8000 children dying every single day as a direct or indirect result of it.
This is not all - of roughly 700 million children under 5 years in the world, 159 million are too short for their age, 50 million are too thin for their height, and millions suffer from deficiencies of vitamins and minerals. None of these children are growing healthy, because they don’t get the nutrition required for their bodies and brains to grow, and for their immune systems to function properly. This hinders their development, ability to study, secure jobs, earn a living, and lead happy lives. This cycle then goes on and on with thousands of families being pushed into poverty.
This blog, however, is about optimism and expectations that we will be able to tackle this burden of malnutrition.
The 2016 Global Nutrition Report which released today, shows us the positive trend in efforts to tackle malnutrition:
- Gradual increase in momentum to tackle malnutrition: From the 2012 WHA nutrition targets, the UN declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases, Nutrition for Growth 2013 summit, the ICN2 conference, and recently the SDG2 on nutrition and food security.
- Knowledge of the transformative impact of tackling malnutrition, and the adverse impact of not tackling it: Every dollar invested in tackling malnutrition delivers at least $16 in return; whilst malnutrition results in losses of at least 11% of GDP annually in Asia and Africa
- Evidence of what works: Good nutrition for women before and during pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, complementary feeding, micronutrient supplementation and fortification, prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition etc. In addition, interventions in health, agriculture, WASH, social protection and education. These can improve food and nutrition security, prevent and treat infectious episodes, improve nutrition awareness, and strengthen practices such as delaying the age of marriage and pregnancy, and birth-spacing that support better nutrition and health.
- Growing political will for nutrition: Donors are placing nutrition higher up their agenda; many countries are also making progress towards achieving the WHA nutrition targets through policies and investments. Still, there is scope for improvement for both donors and countries in the number and quality of investments and policies.
- Encouraging progress on N4G 2013 commitments: 37 out of 80 donors, UN agencies, national governments, civil society organisations, and companies are on track for their policy and programme commitments at N4G. 10 donors have met 61% of their nearly $20 billion commitments (33% if we exclude the US and World Bank)
This gives me hope and confidence that we can still end malnutrition by 2030. It is by no means easy, but it is very much possible.
The report also makes recommendations which serve to guide donor, government, civil society, and business communities and for us as a global community to end malnutrition, to ensure healthy and secure lives for generations to come. Some of them include:
- Making the political choice to end all forms of malnutrition;
- Strengthening data, and improving disaggregate data;
- Scaling up proven evidence based solutions, and focusing on identifying new solutions;
- Supporting more nutrition progress stories, but also documenting challenges where malnutrition rates have stagnated or worsened;
- Setting nutrition targets at national, sub-national levels. For businesses, set targets at company level
Finally, to achieve all of the above we need to invest, invest, and invest in nutrition. Yes, there is a massive financial gap of USD 70 billion over 10 years to achieve the 2025 targets. But, the negative economic impact and loss of potential on account of insufficient action against malnutrition is significantly graver than the resources required for tackling it, for us to carry on business as usual. If donors, governments, businesses, civil society, and philanthropists all step up their game, we will meet this gap.
This July, we expect the official launch of the Decade of Action on Nutrition. The G7 leaders at the summit in Japan also announced continued support to Nutrition for Growth. Now is the time to see these translate into SMART policy, financial, and data commitments to end undernutrition in all its forms, and prevent further increases in overweight and obesity.