End hunger for today’s and tomorrow’s generation

Rosa May Maitem
Is it possible to end hunger for generations to come? The answer is a big yes, advocates say. How? Governments should step up.

UNITED ACTION. Health workers, volunteers, families, and advocates are encouraged to come together to work towards claiming victory in the global battle against hunger. Photo from ACF International Philippines

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – From New York to Spain, London to Kenya, Manila to Leyte, Zamboanga to Central Mindanao, people from around the world are making their voices one in calling for an end to needless child deaths from acute malnutrition.

Picture this: the Philippine population is estimated at 97.6 million, 13.5% of which are children under 5 years old. 7.3% of these children – or nearly a million – are acutely malnourished. (READ: PH hunger situation at a glance)

Prevalence of wasting, or having low weight for one’s height, has risen for children under 5 from 6% in 2003 to 7.3% in 2011, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute reported.

If not properly managed, children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) are 9.4 times more likely to die compared to normal children.  (WATCH: Help children reach their 5th birthday)

As of now, the estimated number of Filipino children under 5 suffering from SAM is 329,400. (READ: How do we solve PH child malnutrition?)

Under the World Health Organization’s (WHO) threshold for global acute malnutrition, the Philippines’ acute malnutrition rate for children under 5 (7.3%) is considered “poor.” Meanwhile, our rate for children aged 6-11 months (11.9%) is considered “serious.”

If properly managed, case fatality can decrease by as much as 55%.

 ‘Generation Nutrition’

GENERATION NUTRITION. Governments and communities must work together in fighting malnutrition. Image from the Generation Nutrition website

In today’s world of wealth and material plenty, Action Against Hunger International (ACF) – an international humanitarian organization – considers it an outrage that globally, 52 million children under the age of 5 still suffer from acute malnutrition.

Every year, the severest form of acute malnutrition causes the death of around a million children, mainly in the developing regions of Africa and Asia, including the Philippines.

To step up action from governments, ACF is working with the Philippine Coalition of Advocates for Nutrition Security (PhilCan), a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), calling for improved nutrition among vulnerable and marginalized populations. 

PhilCan was formerly know as KAIN which stands for Koalisyon para Alagaan at Isalba ang Nutrisyon.

ACF, together with PhilCan, is launching “Generation Nutrition,” an international campaign aiming to stop young child deaths related to acute malnutrition.

Generation Nutrition involves engagement with the public, global decision-makers, and governments across the globe.

The campaign focuses on the progress made by the international community and governments in the twin areas of treatment and prevention.

On treatment, the objective looks into the achievement of universal coverage for the treatment of SAM.

Key to prevention is for governments to implement the measures needed to reduce the rates of acute malnutrition – for instance, a national rate of acute malnutrition of below 5%.

Representatives from the nutrition offices of Davao, Cotabato, Zamboanga, Iloilo, and Capiz joined the launch and committed their support to the campaign.

Role of government

In the last two years, governments have stepped up their action on nutrition. (READ: Malnutrition as a result of bad governance)

The year 2012 saw the adoption at the World Health Assembly of a progressive series of global targets on nutrition.

In June 2013, “Nutrition for Growth” donors committed additional aid for nutrition up to 2020.

Today, 43 developing countries, including the Philippines, are now participating in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.

“In the Philippines, we are calling on the government to maintain this momentum – and, in particular, to do more to address acute malnutrition,” Javad Amoozegar, ACF country director, said.

ACF, at the international and country level, will link with broader civil society advocacy efforts, including those happening under the auspices of the SUN movement and in nutrition-related sectors such as health, food security, agriculture, water and sanitation, and children’s rights.

As 2014 plays a key year in the negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, the Generation Nutrition campaign will push for governments to adopt appropriate goals and targets for addressing under-nutrition and wasting as part of any future deal.

“In the Philippines, we’re building recognition of the importance of tackling acute malnutrition as a key part of a country’s strategy to reduce child mortality,” Amoozegar added. (READ: PH loses trillions of pesos to malnutrition)

Everyday reality

NUTRITION EDUCATION. A health worker explains the importance of micronutrients to a mother and her child. Photo from ACF International Philippines

ACF International sees acute malnutrition as an everyday reality for millions of children around the world. 

According to Amoozegar, acute malnutrition happens not only in areas ravaged by conflict or natural disasters, but also in remote villages and bustling cities. (READ: Hunger is not just about food)

“The silent killer of acute malnutrition is entirely predictable, preventable and treatable. A world where every child has enough nutritious food to live and thrive, where no child dies from hunger or for lack of simple treatments, is possible,” Amoozegar explained. (READ: Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food)

“All it needs is the political will to make it a reality. If we can make change the way they set their priorities, children’s lives will be saved.” (READ: Feeding the hungry through sports)

Dr Oscar Fudalan, ACF Nutrition Coordinator for Yolanda-affected (Haiyan) areas, calls acute malnutrition an “avoidable tragedy.” (READ: Fighting hunger post-disasters)

“We know how to treat acutely malnourished children so they survive and recover and we know how to prevent the condition from occurring in the first place. With the right community health systems in place, in as little as 6 weeks, a child can be back up on his feet again, with his whole life ahead of him,” Fudulan argued.

“It’s time to stand up for children facing deadly hunger and end this outrage.” He also suggested treating acute malnutrition at a community level. (WATCH: Parents exchange and cook nutritious recipes)

Generation Nutrition also launched a global petition calling on world leaders to prioritize tackling acute child malnutrition and ensure that the post-2015 development framework – replacing the Millennium Development Goals – prioritizes ending child deaths related to hunger.

This will be presented to world leaders at the meeting of the United Nations in September 2014 as negotiations involving every nation on earth get underway. – Rappler.com

The ‘Generation Nutrition’ petition is available to sign at www.generation-nutrition.org.

To learn more about ACF International Philippines and on how you can help or donate, you may visit their website and Facebook.

Rosa May Maitem is the Liaison Officer of ACF International Philippine Mission, Cotabato Office. She can be reached at rmaitem@ph.acfspain.org.