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Malnutrition and hunger are here regardless the progress

By Spiros Tzelepis

It is implicated in more than half of all child deaths worldwide

Once we were speaking about hunger, now we speak about malnutrition; we may have changed the word to describe the situation, but the results are the same: death and in the best case survivors vulnerable to illness and intellectually disabled. The victims are children, women, families and the whole society, but the most vulnerable groups are children up to the age of three and women before and during pregnancy and while they are breastfeeding.

Sierra Leone - 1995: A woman feeds her toodler fortified food, her arm around another child at a UNICEF assisted feeding center (Credit: UNICEF\HQ95-0954/Robert Crossman)

It seems that malnutrition is a complex situation which goes further than satisfying immediate hunger. There are several kinds of malnutrition which are often combined: Protein-energy malnutrition, iodine deficiency, disorders and deficiencies of iron and vitamin A. Each type is a result of a complex interplay of factors involving elements of household access to food, child and maternal care, safe water and sanitary and access to basic health services.

It also seems that child malnutrition is not confined to the developing world, but it is also present in same industrialized countries. Although in some parts of the world there has been progress in reducing it, the absolute numbers of malnourished children have grown.

Somalia: A woman relief worker prepares a meal at a feeding center (Credit: UNICEF\93-BOU0646/Betty Press)

Malnourished children are more likely to die as a result of a common childhood disease than those who are adequately nourished. Researchers link malnutrition in early life with the development later in life of chronic disease like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Malnourished children:

Malnutrition causes impairment to mental and cognitive development by reducing the amount of interaction children have with their environment; poor school achievements among primary school and adolescent children has been linked to iron deficiency. The infants of women who are themselves malnourished are likely to be smaller at birth.

The most obvious proof of the power of good nutrition is the taller and healthier children of many countries, separated by only a generation from their shorter parents. Stronger children grow into stronger adults and history shows that societies that meet women's and children's nutritional needs, lift their capacities for greater social progress.

At its basic level malnutrition is a consequence of disease and inadequate dietary intake, which usually occur in a debilitating and often lethal combination. But social, economic, political and cultural elements are also involved like discrimination and violence against women, lack of access to good education and information.

Sudan: Sacks of beans are stored at the food center in Abiye (Credit: UNICEF/Mariantonietta Peru)

Malnutrition has many causes and appears in many ways. Therefore there is no single solution applicable everywhere. It is also well understood that people who suffer from malnutrition cannot be passive recipients of various programmes. They should be the major players in problem assessment and analysis. Combining improved infant feeding, better household access to food, accessible health services and sanitation is obviously an effective solution. In support of these approaches, relevant social services -health, communication and social mobilization- must be focused on nutrition.

It is a real shame for all when half of the world has food surplus while the other half is dying because of hunger and poverty.

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Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

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