Ed note. This is a special guest post from Kolleen Bouchane, Director of ACTION.
Collective inaction on nutrition globally has led to the deaths and squandered the potential of millions of the world’s citizens. Perhaps there was a time when we thought we were doing enough but that time has surely passed.
We have tried to tackle the crisis of hunger. Many countries are generous in providing food to hungry people. But those iconic sacks of grain from the evening news are not enough. There is, as we are learning as we struggle to meet the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, a massive chasm between food and nutrition. And in this gap are the underlying causes of at least a third of all child deaths.
Food is necessary to ensure good nutrition, but it is not sufficient. The diet of poor children often consists of starches like rice, with very little protein and inadequate vitamins and minerals. Beyond the children we have lost, chronic undernutrition causes stunting – irreversibly impeding a child’s cognitive and physical development. When young children are malnourished, they are also far more susceptible to serious illness – 9.5 times more likely to die from diarrhea and 6.4 times more likely to die from pneumonia. These lost children and this enormous lost potential is a drag on entire economies and can cost as much as 2-3 percent of GDP.
Now, 16 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have created fully-costed plans to tackle nutrition as part of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement. These countries are paving the way. Led by Brazil and the United Kingdom, they are now asking the world to come together and invest in ending the undernutrition crisis.
This is the world’s next big opportunity.
On the eve of the G8 Summit in London, governments, international agencies, and private industry will meet at the Nutrition for Growth summit. It’s a ‘money on the table’ event that has the potential to accelerate progress on global nutrition by encouraging investment in these country plans and a more serious focus on shared long-term solutions to the silent tragedy of chronic under-nutrition.
We know what these solutions are. Ensuring women and children can access essential vitamins and nutrients during the 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday ensures that child can grow up healthy. The solutions are basic and cost-effective – providing micronutrients to children was found to be the most cost-effective development investment.
Advocacy organizations around the world including ACTION’s partners in the UK, Canada, and France have developed realistic, ambitious, targets for their governments to meet. In the US, organizations including RESULTS are calling on the Obama Administration to pledge $1.35 billion to nutrition efforts over the next three years – a number representing just a fraction of U.S. investment in overseas aid.
But this isn’t about aid anymore. It’s about the world we collectively have the ability to create. Where children do not die from solutions we understand and resources we have.
Kolleen Bouchane is Director of ACTION, a global partnership of health advocacy organizations working to influence policy and mobilize resources to fight diseases of poverty and improve equitable access to health services, based at RESULTS Educational Fund. Follow her @bouchane and @ACTION_Tweets.