PARIS (AP) – The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has delayed decades of progress against the most severe forms of malnutrition and is likely to kill 168,000 children before any global recovery takes hold, according to a study released Monday by 30 international organizations.
The study by the Standing Together for Nutrition Consortium draws on economic and nutritional data collected this year as well as targeted telephone surveys. Saskia Osendarp, who led the research, estimates that an additional 11.9 million children – most in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – will suffer from stunting and wasting, the most severe forms of malnutrition.
Women who are currently pregnant “will give birth to children who are already malnourished at birth, and these children are disadvantaged from the start,” said Osendarp, executive director of the Micronutrient Forum. “An entire generation is at stake.”
The fight against malnutrition was an unprecedented global success until the coronavirus pandemic struck.
“It may seem like it’s an issue that’s still with us, but the numbers were going down before COVID,” said Lawrence Haddad, executive director of the Global Alliance for Better Nutrition. “Ten years of progress wiped out in 9-10 months.”
Before the pandemic, the number of stunted children was declining worldwide each year, from 199.5 million in 2000 to 144 million in 2019. The number of children suffering from wasting was 54 million in 2010 and had fallen to 47 million last year. It is expected to recover to 2010 levels, according to the study.
The research was published at the start of a year-long effort to raise funds against malnutrition. About $ 3 billion has been announced, although part of it includes previous commitments. Pakistan, which suffers from the most widespread malnutrition in the world, has pledged to spend $ 2.2 billion by 2025.
The consortium includes the World Bank, the World Food Program, UNICEF and USAID as well as private health foundations and universities. UNICEF is committed to spending $ 700 million annually on nutrition programs over the next five years, $ 224 million more than it has spent in the past five years.
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Haddad said the next step is to hold governments accountable for their promises, especially those whose citizens are most malnourished.
“A lot of hunger is about governance,” he said. He added that the pandemic made the benefits of nutrition clear, as malnutrition leaves the body vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses, including the coronavirus. “Nutrition is everyone’s best bet until the vaccine arrives.”
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