|Tasleem Mondy pours a cup of therapeutic milk, providing treatment for her undernourished 18-month-old son, Mohammed, at their home in Karachi, Pakistan.|
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 11 November, 2009 – As the number of hungry and malnourished people passes 1 billion, a new UNICEF report identifies undernutrition as one of the major causes of death among young children.
‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition’, released today, says that undernutrition in mothers and children is a factor in a third of all deaths of children under five. At the same time, the global financial crisis and rising food prices have left many more families struggling to put nutritious food on the table.
“The report we have launched draws attention to the fact that 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from chronic undernutrition. That’s a very high number,” said UNICEF Associate Director of Nutrition Werner Schultink.
As the report shows, the problem is concentrated in just a few regions, and 80 per cent of all chronically undernourished children are found in just 24 countries. Among children who suffer from stunting – a consequence of chronic nutritional deprivation that begins before birth if the mother is undernourished – 90 per cent live in Africa and Asia.
Impact of women’s status
“An important factor in almost all of these countries is the situation of women,” noted Mr. Schultink. “Women do not have enough decision-making power to either take care of themselves or of their children and, in general, are seen as lower-class citizens.”
Inadequate nutrition in early childhood makes children more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea – and it can impair them for life.
Undernourished children “will perform less well in school, they will be able to do less well as an adult and, even worse, their health situation in adult life may be negatively affected,” said Mr. Schultink. “They are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.”
Urgent international action
The ‘Tracking Progress’ report calls for urgent international action to reach those who do not have adequate nutrition.
|A boy eats corn at a health and education support programme for local families in the municipality of San Juan Chamula, located in Chiapas, Mexico.|
UNICEF will continue to work with its partners on successful programmes that work to improve nutrition for the children and families most at risk. Among other achievements to date, the organization has provided vitamin A supplementation to about 80 per cent of vulnerable children targeted for assistance in the least developed countries. And it has helped to ensure that some 70 per cent of all households in developing countries now consume adequately iodized salt.
Advances have also been made in Africa, with programmes that encourage exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of a baby’s life.
“If these countries were able to do these things, if they were able to protect children,” said Mr. Schultink, “many more countries should be able to do the same.”