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UN:  World Recession Raising Malnutrition, Death Rates

The United Nations says the world economic crisis is raising malnutrition and death rates among Africa's children while reducing their access to schools and health care. The assessment was released as world leaders prepare to gather Sept. 24-25 in the United States to study ways to protect the most vulnerable from the downturn.

The United Nations Children's Fund says the world economic recession is especially hurting children and poor people in the developing world.

UNICEF Social Policy Advisor Anthony Hodges told reporters in Johannesburg that research shows the people most-affected live in the developing world and Africa in particular.

"The economic downturn will have a negative impact on households with possible serious knock-on effects on children in terms of worsened nutrition, worsened dietary diversity, in some cases withdrawal of children from schools, increased child labor, difficulties for the families to access health services and so on," he said.

He says only about 10 percent of the African population enjoys what is called social protection, meaning government pension plans, health insurance, and unemployment compensation.

Hodges says the economic downturn has weakened the ability of many governments to fund these social nets.

"In general most African countries are still fiscally fairly fragile. Their economies improved considerably in the early to mid-2000s, but very few of them were in a sufficiently strong position to pursue the kinds of fiscal stimulus packages like industrialized countries," he added.

Nevertheless, he says some African governments have made progress in strengthening social services.

Many have introduced free primary education, and many have launched school feeding programs that raise nutrition levels and encourage children to attend school.

Ghana has introduced national health insurance and cash transfer programs for the poorest of its poor.

South Africa is expanding cash grants to poor children, orphans and the aged, and Ethiopia has introduced a public works program that helps support eight million people.

Hodges notes that leaders from the G20 nations are to meet later this month in the northeastern U.S. city of Pittsburgh, to examine the effects of the economic downturn. He says during this gathering they should find more ways to protect the poorest victims of the crisis.