Over the last few years our global health team, and dedicated grassroots activists, have focused mainly on increasing government resources to two issues which are generally neglected – tuberculosis (TB) and immunisation. At RESULTS we work on issues where we believe we can have the greatest impact in the lives of the world’s poorest people. To have the greatest impact often requires us to champion neglected issues. We are now taking on the struggle for better Nutrition, as our newest workstream. Nutrition is another of these neglected issues; often described as “everybody’s business and nobody’s responsibility.”
Undernutrition is the single largest case of child death globally; responsible for over 35% of preventable deaths among children under 5 years. The first 1000 days (from conception to 2 years) are the most critical, with more than three million women and children dying every year due to undernutrition. For many children that survive, undernutrition has irreversible impairments in physical and cognitive development. This can lead to reduced productivity and life expectancy in adulthood and impair people’s ability to convert opportunities into outcomes.
Today, it is estimated that:
- 165 million children under 5 years of age are stunted (low height-for-age).
- 10% of all children globally (55 million) are wasted (low weight-for-height).
- 112 million children are underweight (low weight-for-age) – 28% of whom are in eastern Africa and 33% in south central Asia
Despite the severity of the current situation, very little progress has been made in addressing undernutrition. In the current Millennium Development Goal (MDG) framework, nutrition is featured as an implicit target under the poverty MGD1. While much progress has been made in improving income poverty (MDG1a), less than a quarter of developing countries are on-track for achieving the goal of halving undernutrition (MDG1c).
Nutrition is much more than simply having enough money to buy food. In fact, in some countries with high growth, such as India, undernutrition persists. Income growth has a relatively small and slow impact on undernutrition rates, which is why undernutrition represents the non-income face of poverty.
We know that it won’t be possible to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) without dealing with undernutrition; it is a foundation for so much other work. Take the fight to reduce cases of TB for instance (MDG6). Undernutrition has a deadly synergy with the disease, since undernutrition increases the risk of active TB, and active TB compounds the severity of undernutrition.
- TB patients who are malnourished are twice as likely to die during treatment.
- People who live in hunger or fear of starvation are more prone to getting TB.
- Within a healthy range, people who weigh more are less likely to get sick with TB.
- TB causes a person to lose weight, which makes it more difficult for their body to fight the disease