23 October 2017

Africa: Progress Marking and Progress Making – Global Nutrition Summit and Global Nutrition Report Launch Set to Catalyze Progress on Malnutrition

Photo: UN Photo/Albert González Farran
A child has a meal at a food distribution centre in the Rwanda camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), near Tawila, North Darfur. More than 8,000 women and children living in the camp benefit from nutrition programmes run by the World Food Programme (WFP).
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The global news cycle is full of crises, with new issues emerging daily.  With the pace at which new problems are unfolding, it can be easy to forget about silent crises that have existed for centuries and spread, seemingly unnoticed.

Generations of people have suffered the scourge of malnutrition. Today, this issue still haunts the global community.  Chronic lack of nutrition kills millions of lives each year. In fact, malnutrition affects 1 in 3 people globally and claims the lives of 3 million children under age 5 annually. Despite the breadth and depth of malnutrition, and the impact that it is having around the world, it often goes unreported.

But there is news to share, both tragic and promising. On one hand, a recent report showed that after a decade of progress, the number of undernourished people globally has increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016.

On the other hand, while the depths of this emergency run deep, there are proven, cost-effective solutions to address the different forms of malnutrition. The evidence is clear: scaling up proven nutrition interventions - like exclusive breastfeeding and micronutrient supplementation - saves lives.  Investments in nutrition can also save economies. Good nutrition is the key to building brains and fueling educated work forces, essentially providing the building blocks of a knowledge-based global economy.

The Global Nutrition Summit on November 4th in Milan, Italy, is an opportunity for the global community to remind world leaders that, althoughmany urgent issues demand political and financial attention, now is not the time to retreat from the fight against malnutrition. Progress is possible: in fact, it is happening all around us. But to truly turn the tide of the malnutrition crisis, the world must urgently take advantage of all opportunities to scale up these efforts.

Prioritizing the fight against malnutrition has enormous potential. Experts at the World Bank estimate that fully investing in meeting four of the six World Health Assembly targets on nutrition (stunting, wasting, anemia and exclusive breastfeeding) could prevent 65 million cases of stunting, prevent 265 million cases of anemia in women, ensure 105 million more babies are exclusively breastfed, treat 91 million children for severe wasting, and in total, avert at least 3.7 million child deaths.[1][2] In order to do so, it is estimated that the global community would need to mobilize an additional $70 billion in financing between 2015-2025, or $7 billion per year, alongside continued improvements in other development sectors related to malnutrition.

This may seem like a steep ask, but it's important to remember that progress against malnutrition has transformed entire countries.  In Peru, stunting rates were reduced by a full 20 percentage points over 20 years by consistently implementing a package of interventions proven to work, and using early successes to fuel further political commitment.   Ethiopia has also been successful in reducing child malnutrition for children aged 6-23 months from 58% in 2000 to 38% in 2016.

These types of efforts don't just save lives, they also pay dividends towards a country's economic health. Economists estimate that stunting alone can decrease a country's GDP by as much as 12%. Results in Peru and Ethiopia prove sustainable progress is possible when political will and appropriate resources drive change.

The 2017 Global Nutrition Report, to be released in a week's time at the Summit on November 4th, is intended to keep the global community honest about the extent to which commitments are being kept and meaningful progress toward global goals is being made. As global leaders convene, it is important to shine a light on the success stories that underscore that the fight against malnutrition is one that can be won. To get there, much more political will is needed at all levels of governance.  By rallying political and financial commitments from a variety of actors, the Global Nutrition Summit in Milan can be a moment not just to mark progress, but also to make progress. If you want to support this moment, join Global Citizen's Call for Action.

Kimberly Cernak is Senior Director for Global Policy and Advocacy at 1,000 Days.

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[1] Shekar, Meera, Jakub Kakietek, Julia Dayton Eberwein, and Dylan Walters. 2017. An Investment Framework for Nutrition: Reaching the Global Targets for Stunting, Anemia, Breastfeeding, and Wasting. Directions in Development. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1010-7. www.tinyurl.com/investmentframeworknutrition

[2] While six goals were agreed, only four of those goals were costed because at the time the analysis was conducted, additional research was required to identify interventions to achieve the low birthweight and overweight targets. In particular, there was not yet consensus on the prevalence of low birthweight nor on the interventions required to meet the goal on childhood obesity, though work by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, released in 2016, is making steady progress and results from the Lancet Commission on obesity is expected soon.

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