As DFID commits to ending preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children in the developing world by 2030, RESULTS UK’s new Head of Policy Advocacy, Alan Lally-Francis, explains why, in order to reach that commitment, the UK must view nutrition as one of its priorities.

In 2018, 5.3 million children under the age of five died, while in 2017 nearly 295,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths were preventable and many of them resulted from malnutrition. This translates to a preventable death every 11 seconds, which is probably around the time it took you to read this paragraph. This is shocking and outrageous!

In light of this, the Department for International Development’s (DFID) recent commitment to ending this unnecessary loss of life is not only welcome, but vital in the fight against preventable deaths. DFID has shown itself to be more than just a trusted and effective donor: it is a global player on development issues, and where it leads, others often follow. It has the technical skill and policy knowledge to work with other donors, as well as helping governments around the world bring about the type of extraordinary change we are all desperate to see.

As the government embarks on fulfilling this commitment, it is vital that tackling malnutrition is prioritised.

Malnutrition takes various forms including undernutrition. Undernutrition is when people do not receive, or their bodies cannot keep, the vital nutrients they need, and it is the cause of half of all under-five deaths. It is different to being hungry. In children, it can be caused by an undernourished mother during pregnancy, infections, or in the insufficient quality of food. Undernutrition weakens the body and the immune system, undermining an individual’s ability to fight illness, infection and disease. Without good nutrition, there cannot be good health. Without good nutrition, preventable deaths will continue, meaning investments in other areas of health will be undermined.

This is a global problem, demonstrated by the recognition of malnutrition within Sustainable Development Goal 2. Fortunately for DFID, the UK Government has a key opportunity next year to put their commitment into action. Japan is hosting the Tokyo 2020 Nutrition for Growth Summit. This follows on from the UK’s summit in 2013, which was a seminal moment in nutrition financing. The UK’s current financial commitment to nutrition will expire at the end of next year. So, it really needs to be on the table in 2020 and contain an ambitious plan, backed with the required resources, to prioritise nutrition across all its work, in order to drive down preventable deaths.

To do this, the UK government should do a few key things:

  • Ensure that any work on food systems and climate change prioritises nutritious crops.
  • Recognise that finding and treating malnutrition is a health priority. Tackling malnutrition must be a central pillar of Universal Health Coverage.
  • Maintain strong and centralised policy coherence across DFID to drive this work whilst integrating nutrition within other programmatic areas, such as economic development and education.

2020 will also see the UK hosting the replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Created in 2000, Gavi is an international organisation that aims to create equal access to vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries. Vaccines are life changing, life-saving and cost-effective. Gavi must be ambitiously resourced and supported in order to ensure that no child is left behind – a key UK government policy priority. But malnutrition can lower the effectiveness of vaccines. To reach its commitment, the UK must focus on accelerating progress on global health, as called for in RESULTS’ Brick by Brick report.

The risks of inaction at the Tokyo Summit are too great. Unfulfilled commitments. More wasted lives. More unnecessary deaths. If we are serious about ending the deaths of under-fives and preventing maternal deaths, the UK must grasp the opportunities presented – including at the upcoming Tokyo Summit – and in doing so, continue its leadership role in the global fight against malnutrition.