UN agencies say new approach making strides in tackling malnutrition
An innovative approach to tackling severe acute malnutrition – affecting approximately 20 million children under the age of five globally – is boosting survival rates, United Nations agencies announced jointly today.
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN), this method combines community-based care with traditional hospital treatment.
Severe acute malnutrition kills roughly one million children yearly, or an average of one child every thirty seconds, and such children are 20 times more likely to die than well-nourished children.
“The 20 million children under five in the world today who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition urgently need treatment,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “This integrated approach should provide a new impetus.”
The agencies said that three quarters of children with severe acute malnutrition who have good appetites and no medical complications can receive home treatment through highly fortified, ready-to-eat therapeutic foods, known as RUTFs.
Rich in nutrients and energy, RUTFs are tasty, soft and can be eaten by children over six months without adding water, thus reducing the risk of bacterial infection, the agencies said. They allow for severely malnourished youth to be treated at home, and do not require refrigeration. As a further benefit, the technology to produce this food is relatively simple and can be duplicated in countries with high severe acute malnutrition rates.
“Ready-to-use therapeutic foods have proven very effective in addressing severe acute malnutrition in children,” said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF’s Executive Director.
On a large scale, this approach could save hundreds of thousands of lives annually and has already been shown to bolster survival rates for children in countries facing emergencies such as Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger and Sudan. It is hoped that the method will spread to severely malnourished children in non-emergency situations as well.
Many families, especially in the poorest countries where the majority of affected children live, do not have easy access to health facilities where children are traditionally referred for in-patient treatment to receive special milk-based diets.
Additionally, many families cannot leave their homes for weeks while their children are being treated in hospitals, and youth are also vulnerable to infections due to their weakened immune systems and also because of crowded hospital conditions.
“With this new approach, we have the right product composition to save millions of young lives – this is an example of the new technology and capacity which bring us closer to achieving the first Millennium Development Goal,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said, referring to the aim of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.
In another development, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today in its latest “Food Outlook” report that, due in part to soaring biofuel demand, the price of food imports has surged, with the poorest countries bearing the brunt.
Marking a 5 per cent increase since last year, expenditures worldwide on imported food will likely exceed $400 billion in 2007, FAO observed.
“The food import basket for the least developed countries in 2007 is expected to cost roughly 90 per cent more than it did in 2000,” said FAO economist Adam Prakash. “This is in stark contrast to the 22 per cent growth in developed country import bills over the same period.”
The majority of the increase is a result of rising prices of imported coarse grains and vegetable oils, both of which are utilized heavily for biofuel production.
In addition, rising costs for feed ingredients will make meat and dairy products more expensive for import. Freight rates globally have climbed to a record high, further impacting import prices.
Economically vulnerable countries are expected to be hit hardest, with total import expenditures on food by low-income food-deficit nations and least developed countries (LDCs) predicted to soar by 10 per cent from last year.
Although world cereal production has increased at a rate higher than forecast by FAO, the agency warned that total supplies will be barely sufficient to meet the expected surge in demand, not just from food and feed sectors, but also from the biofuel industry.