The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week took up the issue of child hunger and malnutrition around the globe, hearing testimony on Tuesday from a number of leading advocates.
Republican senator and committee chairman Richard Lugar began the hearing by describing the scale of hunger among children, and its link to a cycle of poverty.
"An estimated 5 million to 6 million children die each year from infections and diseases caused by malnutrition," he said. "Nearly one third of the children in the developing world are underweight or have had their growth stunted. Hunger and malnutrition also perpetuate poverty and undermine economic growth, development, and political stability in the developing world. "
To shed light on the problem and offer solutions, top representatives from five humanitarian agencies testified: the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Vision, the U.N. World Food Program and the United Nations Children's Fund.
What became clear during the hearing is that child hunger and malnutrition are often present with other diseases - such as AIDS, diarrhea, and malaria - all of which disproportionately afflict poor people in developing nations.
Julie Gerberding from the Centers for Disease Control told the committee a story of a family living in a hut in a remote area of Uganda. She along with other relief officials were visiting the family to deliver AIDS medication.
"And we asked the gentleman in the hut, 'What do you think about this program to deliver you anti-retroviral drugs.' And he said, 'Oh, I feel great. I am getting much better.' And we said, 'Well, when did you start to feel better?' And he said, 'Well, first they brought me a clean water vessel and they brought an antibiotic to treat my diarrhea. And not only did my diarrhea get better but all my children's diarrhea got better. And for the first time, they stared gaining weight and we could see that the nutrition in our household started to improve,'" said Gerberding.
Ms. Gerberding added that on top of those improvements, antibiotics - in combination with bed nets - helped to treat and protect his family against malaria.
"So, through a series of very inexpensive interventions we set the stage so that the treatment for the HIV that we were delivering had a chance of being successful," she added. "You cannot treat HIV in adults and children if they are undernourished."
George Ward, with the Christian relief and development group World Vision, told the committee that even though hunger affects hundreds of millions of children, it is a problem that can be greatly reduced, if the right steps are taken.
"The solution does not require any new inventions," he noted. "But it does require focused attention. Child hunger can be solved one child, one household and one community at a time by empowering caregivers with the necessary tools and resources. We need congressional leadership and support to ensure these programs are funded and expanded."
Senator Lugar's colleague on the committee, Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes, expressed support for increased funding to fight hunger and criticized the Bush administration for cutting funding for such programs in the next fiscal year.
"Regrettably, the budget submitted by the president fiscal '07 had a decrease in a number of programs that involve child survival and health. Development assistance was reduced; international disaster and famine assistance were reduced," he said.