DAKAR, Senegal, 16 September 2011 – Former President of Cape Verde, António Manuel Mascarenhas Gomes Monteiro has made it his mission to make the fight against childhood malnutrition a priority in West Africa. Advocating directly with leaders of West African nations, he aims to place nutrition at the heart of development strategies and advise on approaches to secure policy focus.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Suzanne Beukes reports on the election of former President of Cape Verde, António Manuel Mascarenhas Gomes Monteiro, to help combat childhood malnutrition in West Africa through his new role as Nutrition Advocate. Watch in RealPlayer|
“Children who do not receive the right type of food and nourishment fall sick more often,” said Mr. Monteiro. “When they survive, they can suffer from irreversible mental and physical impairment. Yet much more can be done at all levels to make sure this does not happen, and to head off food emergencies that involve thousands of personal tragedies.”
Each year around 600,000 children under the age offive in the region die from causes related to malnutrition - the condition contributes to 35 per cent of all the child deaths in the region.
|© UNICEF video|
|"More can be done at all levels to make sure this does not happen, and to head off food emergencies that involve thousands of personal tragedies," said former President of Cape Verde, António Manuel Mascarenhas Gomes Monteiro who is now the Nutrition Advocate for The Nutrition Working Group for West Africa.|
Among the 15 countries in the world with the worst under the age of five mortality statistics, seven are in West Africa where one out of four children is underweight. According to Ms. Felicite Tchibindat, Regional Nutrition Adviser for UNICEF, proven approaches and policies are not always a high priority for governments because of a lack of expertise and funding.
“If we are to break a cycle of poverty, death and chronic emergency there has to be an improvement in the nourishment children receive from the moment they are born,” she stressed.
Over the last few years regional leaders have made great strides in trying to combat malnutrition. For instance, some countries have recorded two to three fold increases in the percentage of women exclusively breast feeding their children under six months of age and some 180 million people today consume fortified cooking oil (vitamin A) and wheat flour (iron, folic acid, and zinc).
|© UNICEF video|
|In West Africa, around 600,000 children under the age of five die from causes related to malnutrition every year.|
Pushing the message
Still, more needs to be done from the highest levels of government to push through the message that nutrition is the key to a country’s overall development.
"We need to better engage with national governments --working with civil society, private sector and NGOs-- to build more political commitment to support those policies and actions to make sure that all children, especially those most at risk of malnutrition, are able to live healthy and productive lives," said Ms. Kinday Samba, the World Food Programme Senior Nutrition Adviser for West Africa. "Mr. Monteiro is well positioned to help with this endeavour."
The hope is that Mr. Monteiro, who is supported by a regional group of UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and donors, will be able to encourage the leaders in West African countries to take charge of the gains they’ve already made and put nutrition much higher up on their development agenda to ensure the health of their people.