By Meritt Buyer
One of the perks of serving as Mosaic’s International Field Director and being based in DC is that I get to go to relevant events in order to make connections and advocate for children with disabilities. Recently there have been a whole series of fascinating seminars on nutrition. Not only has it been very informative and inspiring to learn about the work others are doing, but it also made me even more aware of the necessity of BCC’s efforts in this area. For instance, did you know that globally, almost half of all child deaths are due to malnutrition? Half! That’s talking about all children, we don’t even have disaggregated data for children with disabilities. I don’t want to even guess what that would look like.
Malnutrition is a general term that covers more specific nutritional disorders. For example:
- Stunting indicates that a child is failing to thrive. It’s irreversible and it’s what happens when a child is subjected to chronic malnutrition early on in their lives. Economists estimate that stunting can reduce a country’s GDP by as much as 12%.
- Wasting occurs when a child rapidly loses body weight as a result of moderate or severe malnutrition, putting a child at increased risk of illness or death. Globally, wasting accounts for 2 million childhood deaths each year. Severely wasted children are, on average, 11 times more likely to die than their healthy counterparts, as wasting is shown to increase the risk of death from infectious diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and measles. Even higher mortality has been reported when children are both wasted and stunted.
- An indicator of poor nutrition, anemia is a condition in which the number and size of red blood cells is so low, it impairs the ability of the blood to transport oxygen around the body. The result is an overall decline in health, including loss of energy and reduced physical capacity.
In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed six global targets to significantly reduce the rate of all forms of malnutrition by 2025. Currently, the world is off track to meet all six of the WHA defined targets. However, the world of humanitarian aid and international development does seem to have gained a certain amount of momentum recently towards fighting malnutrition. The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently hosted a panel on The Rise of Nutrition during which Thomas Schaetzel, Director of Nutrition for CARE USA talked about this as a critical moment in which there seemed to be enough political will and globally coordinated effort to make an impact. If the number of nutrition themed events in DC is any indication, this definitely seems to be the case.
Initiatives of note include the International Rescue Committee’s study of low-literacy community health workers using simplified tools and protocol in South Sudan. They have adapted standard measuring and record keeping tools to make it easier for local community health workers to assess children and determine the correct plan of treatment. Watch how it works.
1,000 Days was founded on the understanding that right nutrition during the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s 2nd birthday can save lives and enable children to reach their full potential. They work to ensure that women and young children eat a healthy and diverse diet of nutritious foods; have access to quality health care, clean water and sanitation, and social support systems; treatment for acute malnutrition reaches those who need it; and there is collaboration to bring an end to malnutrition in all its forms. This requires a shift in food systems, environments, social norms, and funding and policy priorities.
Malnutrition has long been identified as a major health issue among the children of BCC. In some cases, there simply is not enough food at home, but for those with swallowing difficulties, every bit of food they manage to get down has to count exponentially. We also know that many of the disabilities we see in children coming to our centers occur because the mother was malnourished during pregnancy and/or unable to provide the proper nutrition for her newborn.
Because of a generous donor, BCC began supplying nutritional supplements to malnourished children in April of 2016. Depending on their levels of malnourishment, children receive some combination micronutrients in the form of Jazia meal with their porridge and milk and eggs. On average we have seen a monthly 5% increase in each participants’ body weight! Little Aminata actually got chubby cheeks! So little by little, BCC is making an impact.
Reaching the WHA 2025 targets would be an accomplishment worth celebrating. Fighting malnutrition worldwide will take coordinated efforts across all public health and development sectors, especially in the face of climate change and the current drought. And in our own small corner of the world in Moshi, it is really no different. Nutritional supplements is a great start, but we also need to look at maternal and newborn health systems, diagnostic, tracking, and treatment tools, policy and funding shifts, adaptive feeding techniques, and community education.