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The U.N. Children's Fund says 8.8 million children under age five die from largely preventable causes every year. A new report finds a few simple, cost-effective interventions could save the lives of many children currently dying from malnutrition related illnesses.
The U.N. Children's Fund reports about one third of children under age five who die every year from largely preventable causes are malnourished. It says under nutrition weakens the immune system. So a child does not have the strength to fight off leading killer diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
The UNICEF report says about 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic maternal and childhood under nutrition.
It says 24 countries in Asia and Africa account for more than 80 percent of the global burden of chronic under nutrition, as measured by stunting.
Speaking in a telephone news briefing from New York, UNICEF Executive-Director Ann Veneman, says the health of the child is inextricably linked to the health of the mother.
She notes one third of child deaths, or nearly three million, occur in the first month of life and 69 percent of under-five deaths occur in the first year of life.
She says the first 1,000 days, from conception until a child's second birthday, are the most critical for a child's development.
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"Malnutrition during this period can result in decreased cognitive development of the child," said Ann Veneman. "This then impacts the ability of the child to learn in school and earn as an adult. Studies have shown that lack of iodine alone can result in a 13.5-point decline in IQ."
The report notes several simple, cost effective interventions can save many lives and prevent stunting in children. It cites exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of a child's life as the most important life saving measure. It recommends continued breast-feeding until a child is at least two years old.
Other effective interventions include supplements of micro-nutrients and minerals, such as iodized salt and vitamin A supplements.
Veneman says the report includes evidence of success of key interventions even in some of the poorest countries.
"One is the country of Madagascar where in 2008, 97 percent of children from age six months to five years had received the necessary two doses of vitamin A," she said. "This is up from just 38 percent in the year 2000. Also, in Madagascar, the use of iodized salt, critical to cognitive development, the iodine, which stood at just one percent in 1995, it had reached 75 percent by 2004."
UNICEF warns future generations are in jeopardy unless urgent efforts are made to tackle under nutrition. The report says unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal under nutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow.