Africa: The Challenge of Hunger: Focus on the Crisis of Child Undernutrition

Published on allAfrica, by press release, October 11, 2010.

As the world approaches the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which include a goal of reducing the proportion of hungry people by half – the 2010 Global Hunger Index (GHI) offers a useful and multidimensional overview of global hunger.

The 2010 GHI shows some improvement over the 1990 GHI, falling by almost one-quarter. Nonetheless, the index for hunger in the world remains at a level characterized as “serious.” The result is unsurprising given that the overall number of hungry people surpassed 1 billion in 2009, even though it decreased to 925 million in 2010, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The highest regional GHI scores are for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, but South Asia has made much more progress since 1990. 

In South Asia, the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women is among the major factors that contribute to a high prevalence of underweight in children under five.

In contrast, in Sub-Saharan Africa, low government effectiveness, conflict, political instability, and high rates of HIV and AIDS are among the major factors that lead to high child mortality and a high proportion of people who cannot meet their calorie requirements … //

… To reduce child undernutrition, governments should invest in effective nutrition interventions targeted to mothers and children during the window of opportunity. These interventions should focus on improving maternal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation, promoting sound breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, providing essential micronutrients, and adopting salt iodization, while also ensuring appropriate immunization.

Achieving high coverage of these interventions could have a rapid impact on improving early childhood nutrition. Governments should also adopt policies that deal more broadly with the underlying causes of undernutrition such as food insecurity, lack of access to health services, and poor caring and feeding practices, which are exacerbated by poverty and gender inequity.

Poverty-reduction strategies focused on reducing inequities are therefore part of the solution for improving early childhood nutrition, as are policies specifically aimed at improving the health, nutrition, and social status of girls and women. (full text).

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