Leadership, commitment keys to winning battle against undernutrition, UN agency says

Child's arm being measured to assess his nutritional state at a feeding centre in Dahakula village, Bangladesh. Photo: WFP/S. Noorani

6 June 2013 – With 165 million children around the world who are stunted as a result of undernutrition, the United Nations children’s agency has reiterated its calls to invest in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

“The battle against undernutrition is being won, but progress is too slow for too many,” said Werner Schultink, the head of nutrition at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“Our message is clear – that the time is now for all of us to demonstrate resolute leadership and steadfast commitment for the millions of mothers and children who still fall victim to undernutrition,” Mr. Schultink said yesterday in a news release from UNICEF.

The call comes as Governments of Brazil and the United Kingdom, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), are today hosting a summit in London to tackle undernutrition and agree on cutting the number of stunted children by an additional 20 million in the 20 highest burden countries by 2020.

Meanwhile, the medical journal “Lancet” has reported that malnutrition is responsible for the deaths of 3.1 million children each year or 45 per cent of all deaths of children under five years of age. The figure is higher than the journal’s last estimates in 2008.

The study found that children born too small for their gestational age – more than a quarter of births in low- and middle-income countries – were at a substantially greater risk of dying.

The findings are in line with a UNICEF report, Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress, which highlights the importance of nutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life or the first 1,000 days.

Ending stunting and other forms of undernutrition saves lives and improves health, prospects for children and development progress. “This is why the fight against undernutrition has to be a global imperative for donors, for affected countries, for innovators in the private sector and for communities themselves,” said Mr. Schultink.

“That’s the sort of shared commitment we see in the Scaling up Nutrition Network, where 40 countries are already taking tangible steps to increase and better target investments and sharpen policies and nutrition-focused programmes.”

An estimated 80 per cent of the world’s stunted children live in just 14 countries, according to UNICEF. The report highlights successes in scaling up nutrition and improving policies through proven interventions, such as promoting exclusive breastfeeding, addressing micronutrient deficiencies and improving maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy. The case studies are in 11 countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, the United Republic of Tanzania and Viet Nam.

In addition, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Every Woman Every Child initiative in 2010 to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015 by mobilizing governments, multilaterals, the private sector and civil society to address the major health challenges facing women and children around the world, including poor nutrition.

To date, Every Woman Every Child has brought together 260 partners and made ambitious commitments to advance its goal, and billions of dollars in new funding for women’s and children’s health have been mobilized and $10 billion has already been delivered.

The health of women and children is critically important to almost every area of human development and progress, and directly impacts our success in achieving the eight anti-poverty goals known as the Millennium Development Goals, which have a deadline of December 2015.


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