Poor diets are not the result of personal choice, as many think. More often, it is due to a lack of access and affordability to healthy, varied nutritious food. Only by addressing inequities in food and health systems, and placing nutrition at the heart of social and economic development policies, can we fix the global nutrition crisis.
For instance, better choices around the production of food can shift the agricultural system from a reliance on staple grains like rice, wheat and maize, to more varied and healthier foods, like fruits, nuts and vegetables.
At Concern, we work to address undernourishment, ensure food and nutrition security across our programmes, and promote sustainable agriculture through various livelihood projects.
But it isn’t only the food system that needs to adapt. Most people cannot access or afford quality health care that would help to prevent or treat malnutrition. Spending on nutrition needs to be better integrated into national health budgets.
According to the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, approximately just one quarter of the 16 million children under five years with severe acute malnutrition received treatment in 2017, highlighting the urgent need to address this unfair and unacceptable burden.
Through our pioneering Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) approach, which has now become the preferred approach amongst practitioners for tackling malnutrition, we have found ways to help health systems deliver nutrition services more effectively by treating malnourished children in the home. Children who have been admitted to our programme are provided with medical treatment and given a sufficient supply of micronutrient-enriched therapeutic food. We have also developed a CMAM Surge approach in response to seasonal changes or ‘surges’ as we know that in many contexts, the number of children seeking treatment for acute malnutrition peaks during certain months of the year.
Since Covid-19 we have produced guidance to help health and nutrition staff adapt CMAM to ensure essential treatment services for acute malnutrition continue as much as possible while minimising the risk of viral transmission.
2020 must be the turning point for nutrition. Investing in nutrition and renewing and expanding commitments is critical if we want to avoid a reversal of gains made. We know there is huge demand for funding across many sectors with pressure on donor and domestic budgets. However we cannot afford to see reductions in resources for addressing malnutrition, especially during the Covid-19 crisis.
That is why we are calling for governments to champion food and nutrition security globally, particularly in the face of escalating food crises and the secondary impacts of events like Covid-19.
In 2013 the first Nutrition for Growth Summit held in the UK set the world on a pathway towards achieving its global nutrition goals. As we wait for news on the rescheduling of the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit, governments must pledge long-term, sustainable commitments that have the greatest impact on hunger.
The world cannot afford to let this moment pass.