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June 18, 2013

Malnutrition Is Still a Major Cause of Child Deaths

by Kim Lewis

Malnutrition continues to be a major contributor of death in young children and infants. In a recent report in the Lancet medical journal, it was cited as the reason for 45-percent of child deaths worldwide.

International NGO’s are calling for world leaders to focus on nutrition when addressing economic issues.

The executive director of ONE, a grass roots campaign and advocacy organization, said that this year alone, two-million children will die because of a lack of proper nutrition.  Sipho Moyo, who is based in Johannesburg, added that malnutrition can lead to stunted growth.  It can also harm students’ performance in school – and ultimately, their ability to get a good job to support their families. ,

Moyo said because of this, more attention needs to be paid to nutrition, especially in the early stages of a child’s life.  She also emphasized the vital role nutrition plays in a country’s economy. 

“It’s actually become a health crisis which nobody remembers or looks at, and part of the reason is that there just isn’t enough money that is being invested in nutrition, and the needs of children of that age,” said Moyo.

Her organization, ONE, works specifically to help bring people out of poverty through policy change.

“When it comes to Africa, and the investment that goes into agricultural development, if you think about it, 70 percent of Africans actually derive their livelihoods from agriculture.  To begin to tackle poverty it is that 70 percent that you have to start with.  And what this really means, is that African governments must keep their commitments to investing in agriculture,” said Moyo.

In 2003, African governments signed the Maputo Agreement, which included a commitment to invest 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture. Moyo said some growth has been noted over the years, but, more progress is needed.

“When you begin to invest in agriculture, and this means qualitative investment in agriculture, it’s not just about the dollars, it’s really about what are the targeted interventions within that budget that benefits smallholders,” explained Moyo.

She emphasized that it is important that African governments, in partnership with their donor partners, take the lead in investing within their own countries. 

“There is actually a serious need to invest in what I would call an African food revolution, and this is what we were asking the G8 for, during the Nutrition for Growth summit that took place last Saturday (June 8), in London. We need funding pledges to resource nutrition plans.  We’re also asking for finance and prioritization,” said Moyo. 

There are already some African-led initiatives underway such as the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa and Agriculture Development Program.  Moyo said the program needs additional investment to reduce malnutrition and poverty on the continent.