Editor's Note: As part of our new blog series, The Next Generation, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is inviting a diverse group of experts to explore topics related to youth employement and agriculture in advance of the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium. Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 21 and 22.
By Mannik Sakayan, director of advocacy and outreach, 1,000 Days
Last fall, upon receiving the 2017 World Food Prize, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina spoke of Africa’s untapped potential in agriculture as the continent’s pathway out of poverty. For Dr. Adesina, former Nigerian minister of agriculture and current president of the African Development Bank, unlocking that potential goes beyond investments in research, innovation, inputs, and brick and mortar infrastructure. It encompasses the requisite step of addressing child malnutrition and stunting.
For that reason, in articulating his vision, Dr. Adesina was also making the case for an equally important investment to build Africa’s “grey matter infrastructure” -- the neuronal connections needed for optimal cognitive development.
Malnutrition robs children and economies of their ability to reach full potential. Child stunting, manifested by low height for age, is a devastating consequence of early exposure to malnutrition. One in four children, or 155 million, are stunted around the world. Some 54 million are in Africa alone. While the damage to a child’s physical and cognitive development is irreversible, it is a preventable problem with proven, cost-effective solutions. With sufficient resources and political will, it is possible to bend the curve and accelerate progress toward global nutrition targets.
A 2016 World Bank study found that the current level of global funding for nutrition is vastly insufficient to accelerate progress toward meeting the nutrition targets agreed to by the international community in 2012. The U.S. government and its global partners invest less than 1 percent of Official Development Assistance in nutrition. In fact, only $3.9 billion is spent annually by all countries and donors on the high-impact nutrition programs that are proven to save lives.
The study found that over the next ten years, an additional $70 billion in nutrition-specific financing is needed, for a total of $109 billion. This translates to $10.9 billion each year from donors, high-burden countries, and households themselves. Such an investment would yield tremendous returns: 3.7 million child lives saved, at least 65 million fewer stunted children, 265 million fewer women suffering from anemia, 105 million more children exclusively breastfed and 91 million children treated for severe wasting as compared to the 2015 baseline. While this level of investment is ambitious, it is not unprecedented.
The 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child's second birthday provides an optimal window of opportunity to accelerate progress. A priority package of cost-effective interventions includes: vitamin A supplementation for children, promotion of good infant and young child nutrition and hygiene practices, antenatal micronutrient supplementation, intermittent preventive treatment of malaria for pregnant women, iron folic acid supplements for adolescent girls, staple food fortification, pro-breastfeeding social policies, national breastfeeding promotion campaigns, and treatment of severe acute malnutrition.
Two high impact interventions – breastfeeding promotion and micronutrient supplementation for pregnant women – are ready to be scaled up immediately.
Breastfeeding boosts a child’s immune system, protects from diseases, increases cognitive ability (IQ), and is essential for healthy growth. Scaling up breastfeeding to a near universal level could save over 800,000 lives per year. Research estimates the global cost of lower cognitive ability associated with not breastfeeding is more than $300 billion each year. For every dollar invested in achieving the breastfeeding target, it is estimated that $35 in economic benefits could be generated.
Anemia affects half a billion women of reproductive age worldwide – impairing their health and economic productivity. In pregnant women, anemia can lead to maternal deaths (20 percent) and have serious health consequences for infants including stillbirths, prematurity and low birth weight. The return on investment in anemia reduction is $12 for every $1 spent.
Micronutrient supplementation and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding save the lives of mothers and children and contribute to early brain development. Support for these programs is not just a reflection of American generosity, but it is in our vital interest to help developing countries on their journey to prosperity and economic resilience. Nourishing future innovators and leaders today is the first step in that journey.
Two recent developments necessitate urgent action. First, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world is estimated to have increased to 815 million in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. After a prolonged decline, this increase could signal a reversal of trends. Second, newborn deaths now account for a greater, and growing share of all deaths among children younger than five. Globally, 46 percent of deaths for children under 5 happen within the first 28 days of life, up from 41 percent of deaths in 2000. This trend is expected to continue as deaths of children under 5 continue to decline. Any gains as a result of the child survival movement will be wiped away if we don’t stem newborn deaths with urgency and scale.
Progress is possible. Malnutrition, the underlying cause of 45 percent of child deaths, is not inevitable. It is solvable. If “stunted children today means stunted economies tomorrow,” then what are each of us willing to do now to bend the curve and reverse that trend?
Giving each child that is born a fair start to life is both a moral and an economic call to action. Not only do we have the technology to see the vivid images of damage done to a malnourished child’s brain, we have the evidence-based solutions to prevent it from happening to the next child. In nourishing babies born today, we are increasing their chances for success in a highly competitive knowledge economy.
That is why 1,000 Days, an independent non-profit organization, advocates for increased investments in proven nutrition interventions that can save and improve lives. In addition to interventions that address the immediate determinants of fetal and child nutrition and development, 1,000 Days supports continued investments in water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, agriculture, and women’s empowerment and education, which contribute to improved nutritional outcomes.
1,000 Days is proud to support the work of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and its upcoming Global Food Security Symposium, which continues to build on the evidence base and the linkages between food security, agriculture, nutrition, food systems and health.