FOOD FOR GROWTH

A United Na­tions Re­port says one in four chil­dren un­der five years, across the world – a to­tal of 165 mil­lion – are stunted, while The Lancet es­ti­mates that un­der­nu­tri­tion makes up 45 per cent of all un­der-five deaths.

Viet Nam News - - FRONT PAGE - Pitch Dr Noel Marie Za­gre

A UN re­port says one-in-four chil­dren un­der five around the world – a to­tal of 165 mil­lion – are stunted from birth, of­ten by mal­nu­tri­tion.

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — Eric Turya sin­gura chases after a ball made from plas­tic bags out­side his mud-brick home in the moun­tains of south­ern Uganda.

Yelling in his tribal tongue, Nkore, “Arse­nal with the ball! Arse­nal with the ball!” he jos­tles with his younger brothers for pos­ses­sion.

The fame of the English soc­cer club has reached even his lit­tle ears. Pre­tend­ing to be a sports star of­fers a mo­ment of es­cape from his daily strug­gles.

At five years old, Eric’s tiny body al­ready tells a story of poverty and lost op­por­tu­nity. He is six inches shorter than he should be for his age. His arms and legs are pen­cil-thin and his head is out of pro­por­tion to his body.

Be­cause he is stunted, ex­perts say his chances grow­ing up healthy, learn­ing at full po­ten­tial, and get­ting a job, let alone play pro­fes­sional soc­cer, have been greatly di­min­ished.

In 2013, a United Na­tions Re­port said one in four chil­dren un­der five years, across the world – a to­tal of 165 mil­lion – were stunted, while last year The Lancet es­ti­mated that un­der­nu­tri­tion con­trib­uted 45 per cent of all un­der-5 deaths.

Of­ten be­gin­ning in the womb as poverty-stricken moth­ers live hand-to-mouth, stunt­ing can be a life­long af­flic­tion. Stud­ies show it is linked to poor cog­ni­tion and ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance, low adult wages and lost pro­duc­tiv­ity. A stunted child is nearly five times more likely to die from di­ar­rhoea than a non-stunted child be­cause of the phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes in a stunted body.

De­vel­op­ment agen­cies say sig­nif­i­cant progress has been made in en­sur­ing chil­dren are prop­erly nour­ished, and as a re­sult, the in­ci­dence of stunt­ing is de­clin­ing.

How­ever, huge chal­lenges re­main and in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, the pro­por­tion of stunted un­der-fives is two in five. With crises in South Su­dan, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Syria and now Iraq dis­plac­ing mil­lions of peo­ple, com­bat­ing hunger and en­sur­ing stunt­ing rates don’t creep back up has be­come a top pri­or­ity.

“ We will not elim­i­nate ex­treme poverty or achieve sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment with­out ad­e­quate food and nu­tri­tion for all,” said UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-Moon at a meet­ing of global hunger agen­cies in Rome.

“We can­not know peace or se­cu­rity if one in eight peo­ple are hun­gry.” As such, the first “pil­lar” of Sec­re­tary Gen­eral’s “Zero Hunger Chal­lenge” aims to elim­i­nate stunt­ing in chil­dren un­der two years old.

The United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF) is also a part­ner in the Scal­ing Up Nu­tri­tion (SUN) Move­ment, another ma­jor global push, bring­ing to­gether more than 50 coun­tries in an ef­fort put na­tional poli­cies in place and im­ple­ment pro­gramme with shared nu­tri­tion goals.

One in­no­va­tive pro­gramme – the Africa Nu­tri­tion Se­cu­rity Part­ner­ship, be­ing im­ple­mented by UNICEF and funded by the Euro­pean Union since 2011 – is com­bat­ing stunt­ing both at the commu- nity level and the in­sti­tu­tion level.

Acutely mal­nour­ished chil­dren at risk of death are di­rected to health clin­ics, and at the same time health in­sti­tu­tions and part­ners are given the tools they need to im­prove in­fant and young child feed­ing prac­tices and hy­giene, and bet­ter fight hunger and dis­ease. The fouryear pro­gramme fo­cuses on Ethiopia ( with a stunt­ing rate of 44 per cent), Uganda ( 33 per cent), Mali ( 38 per cent) and Burk­ina Faso (35 per cent).

The aim is to change be­hav­iour among house­holds, set up sys­tems for ef­fec­tive mul­ti­sec­toral ap­proaches and in­crease gov­ern­ment ca­pac­ity, en­abling th­ese coun­tries to bat­tle against the ef­fects of hunger long after the pro­gramme is com­plete.

In Uganda, for ex­am­ple, com­mu­nity work­ers have been pro­vided with smart phones, pro- grammed with in­for­ma­tion about hy­giene, post­na­tal care and proper in­fant and ma­ter­nal diet. The work­ers share the in­for­ma­tion with house­hold mem­bers and then log their lo­ca­tion on the smart phone’s GPS to prove they were there.

In Mali’s cap­i­tal, Bamako, fund­ing has been pro­vided to broaden a master’s de­gree to pro­vide ad­vanced train­ing to health­care pro­fes­sion­als about how to best de­sign and im­ple­ments nu­tri­tion pro­grammes.

In Ethiopia, school­girls are be­ing en­cour­aged to de­lay mar­riage and preg­nancy un­til they are at least 18, as a way of pre­vent­ing in­ter­gen­er­a­tional un­der­nu­tri­tion. Older women are bet­ter able to carry a baby and rear chil­dren with stronger bod­ies and minds.

The in­creased fo­cus on stunt­ing by the hu­man­i­tar­ian com­mu­nity is telling: its preva­lence has be­come a kind of lit­mus test for the well be­ing of chil­dren in gen­eral. A child who has grown to a nor­mal height is more likely to live in a house­hold where they wash their hands and have a toi­let; is more likely to eat fruit and vegetables, is more likely to be go­ing to school; is more likely to get a good job; and is less likely to die from dis­ease.

More­over, tip­ping the bal­ance in favour of a child ’ s fu­ture isn ’ t as hard as some might think. The sim­ple act of re­in­forc­ing the im­por­tance of ex­clu­sively breast­feed­ing a baby for the first six months of his or her life, for ex­am­ple, in­creases an in­fant ’ s chances of sur­vival by six times.

Most of the re­gions where the part­ner­ship is be­ing run have am­ple food to go around. It is other fac­tors, such as fail­ing to prop­erly wash and dry uten­sils after meals, sell­ing nu­tri­tious home­grown foods at mar­ket rather than eat­ing them, and cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties to things like vegetables and eggs that are caus­ing prob­lems. As such, sim­ply ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes can make a real dif­fer­ence and save count­less lives.

The other chal­lenge is en­sur­ing there is enough po­lit­i­cal will to keep those pro­grammes run­ning. If the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity re­mains fo­cused, the down­ward trend in stunt­ing will con­tinue. It could only be a few short years be­fore chil­dren from mod­est African com­mu­ni­ties like the moun­tains of south­ern Uganda get to re­ally play for teams like Arse­nal. Chil­dren just need to be al­lowed to grow to their full po­ten­tial and good things will follow. —

— AFP/VNA Photo

Chil­dren and their moth­ers wait for food at the Car­i­tas health cen­tre in Mu­gunga, 10km west of Goma in the North-Kivu prov­ince of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo.

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