New news on Malnutrition
We all know that malnutrition is linked to child mortality. This is not new news. But to what extent? According to a recent article in The Economist, hunger has an even bigger impact on children's health than was previously thought. In a paper by Robert Black of Johns Hopkins University,
underweight births and inter-uterine growth restrictions cause 2.2m child deaths a year (around one every 15 seconds). Poor or non-existent breastfeeding explains another 1.4m. Other deficiencies—lack of vitamin A or zinc for instance—account for 1m. In all, that is 3.5m deaths (once you strip out double counting)—one-third of total child mortality.
The real news shown here and confirmed by Lancet, a British medical journal, is that hunger causes disease and death and can be fatal in and of itself. In the past, malnutrition had simply been treated as something that exacerbates other diseases such as measles, diarrhea, and pneumonia. These findings, however, confirm and emphasize the point that hunger is the gravest single threat to the world's public health. This has serious implications for international aid distribution. Currently, roughly $300m of aid goes to basic nutrition each year (less than $2 for each child below two in the 20 worst affected countries) whereas $2.2 billion goes to HIV/AIDS ($67 per person with HIV in all countries, including rich ones). However, HIV/AIDS causes far fewer deaths than child malnutrition. This is not to say that money shouldn't go into life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS. It does, however, present a far more holistic model for addressing problems of health and nutrition. According to April Harding of the Centre for Global Development,
it forces policymakers to pay attention to health-care systems as a whole, rather than trying to save children “one disease at a time”.
If we can adequately address the issue of hunger, we will be well on our way to dealing with the other diseases it causes and contributes to.
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