Action on reducing child stunting across Africa is imperative for driving economic growth and reducing poverty. That was the message emanating from a roundtable of African heads of state, ministers, CEOs and civil society leaders this morning, on the eve of President Obama’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.
New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, in a recent piece titled “A Free Miracle Food!”, wrote: “…if we want to save hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe a step forward is to offer more support to moms in poor counties trying to nurse their babies. Nursing a baby might seem instinctive, but plenty goes wrong. In some parts of the world, a problem has been predatory marketing by formula manufacturers, but, in the poorest countries, the main concern is that moms delay breast-feeding for a day or two after birth and then give babies water or food in the first six months.
It is well-documented that prenatal nutritional supplements can give children the right start in life by supporting development in-utero and improving birth-weight, which reduces infant mortality. But can a case be made that good nutrition early on will give children a measureable earnings boost years later?
This week (August 1-7) is World Breastfeeding Week, an occasion to remind ourselves of the important role that optimal infant and young child feeding plays in the healthy growth and development of individuals, communities, and nations. For more than 30 years, the World Bank has championed the importance of breastfeeding. This includes investing in advocacy and communications to policymakers, strengthened health systems, and effective community-based outreach to provide the knowledge and support needed by women and their families.
To mark World Breastfeeding Week, World Bank nutrition experts have updated this helpful Q/A on the topic:
What are the health benefits of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is one of the most powerful tools available to a mother to ensure the health and survival of her child from the moment he/she is born. Optimal breastfeeding practices, which include initiating breastfeeding within an hour of birth, feeding only breast milk until 6 months, and continuing to breastfeed up to 24 months, are key elements in the fight against malnutrition. Breast milk provides all the nutrients a child needs for healthy development in the first six months of life. And the antibodies that are transferred from a mother to her child during breastfeeding help protect infants against common childhood illnesses that can lead to death, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
The Lancet’s 2008 series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition has estimated that the relative risk of death (all cause mortality) is 14 times higher for a child who is not breastfed versus one who is exclusively breastfed. When broken down by disease, the relative risk of death from diarrhea and pneumonia is 10.5 and 15 times higher, respectively, for children who are not breastfed versus those that are exclusively breastfed.
We’ve got something to smile about this week at the World Bank: Our baby Maya, who has shown us the importance of having a strong health system and access to quality maternal and child health care, has reached her second birthday!
To mark this special occasion, we’re launching a new video about the things that helped Maya achieve this milestone, including access to family planning and proper nutrition. These are two key services provided by well-functioning health systems that create healthy futures for mothers and their children—along with other affordable services, trained health workers, clean water, vaccines, well-equipped clinics, and many other moving parts.
The video—the second in a series that began with Maya’s birth—comes as the global health community holds a summit on family planning this week in London. I hope Maya’s story underscores what a difference access to effective family planning can make. By giving women the means to space the births of their children by three years, for example, deaths of children under-five would decrease by 35%.
Malnutrition in South Asia is the worst in the world (yes, worse than that of sub-Saharan Africa). It undermines the efforts of countries to reduce poverty, increase educational attainment and productivity, expand innovation and entrepreneurship, and reduce maternal and child mortality. It’s also why, for the past two years, 21 organizations from India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have implemented community-based innovations for improving infant and young child nutrition, financed by a unique World Bank small grants initiative known as the Development Marketplace.
Although the world produces a surplus of food, we have yet to achieve the right balance between the production of food and achievement of good nutrition. A new World Bank-hosted knowledge platform will generate better understanding of the links between agriculture, food security and nutrition, to help countries reach the Millennium Development Goal on hunger (MDG 1). Read more on the SecureNutrition blog.
At the 2012 World Bank Spring Meetings this weekend, government ministers, civil society representatives, policymakers and journalists are talking about how to “Close the Gap” for global inequality.
On the eve of World Water Day (March 22), there is some good public health news that is unrelated to medical care for the “sick,” but to a critical investment that makes people healthier and more productive, and promises a higher quality of life, particularly among the poor.
The 2012 UNICEF/World Health Organization report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation, says that at the end of 2010, 89% of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, had access to improved drinking water. This means that the related Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has been met well ahead of the 2015 deadline. The report also predicts that by 2015, 92% of people will have access to better drinking water.
But, the not-so-good news is that only 63% of the world has improved sanitation access, a figure projected to increase only to 67% by 2015, well below the 75% MDG aim. Currently 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation. The report also highlights the fact that the global figures mask big disparities between regions and countries, and within countries (e.g., only 61% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe water).
Save the Children’s recent report, A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition, reminds us that undernutrition is not a new crisis—and that the crisis will deepen if the global community fails to take serious action. If current trends persist, 11.7 million more children will be stunted in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025, compared to 2010.
What can we do? Food is part of the answer, but it’s about the right food, at the right time—not just starchy staple foods that fill empty stomachs. According to Save the Children, more than half of children in some countries are eating diets of just three items: a staple food, a legume, and a vegetable (usually green leaves).
Availability of food and access to food are necessary but insufficient to ensure good nutrition. Insidiously, malnutrition (undernutrition) is not hunger, although malnourished children are often hungry. And undernutrition is frequently invisible, but increases the risk of child death; steals children’s growth; decreases cognitive potential, school performance, and adult productivity; and contributes to the development of non-communicable diseases later in life.