Malnutrition is frequently part of a vicious cycle that includes poverty and disease.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Ending Malnutrition
Who among us has not seen the photos of children dying of malnutrition in Africa? So many tiny faces with sad and staring eyes. Their parched lips silent and downturned; their bony shoulders hunched helplessly over jaggedly defined ribcages that end just above oddly inflated stomachs. The bloated belly. A trademark sign of malnutrition on a child barely clinging to life.
As painful as it is to visualize, the symptoms of malnutrition must be recognized in order to effectively save its youngest victims. Child malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than 1/3 of all childhood deaths worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition is the gravest single threat to global public health.\
Death by malnutrition goes much deeper than simply a global shortage of food. It’s not enough to feed people just anything in order for them to survive and thrive. In much of the world, children with full bellies are still lacking the nutrients and vitamins they need to grow to their full potential. A malnourished child is less able to fight off illness, less likely to get the most out of schooling, and often becomes physically and mentally stunted. Malnutrition keeps children trapped in the cycle of poverty.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition is the condition that develops when the body is deprived of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people, or one in eight people in the world, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties. There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2012).
Types and Causes of Malnutrition
Each form of malnutrition depends on what nutrients are missing in the diet, for how long and at what age. The most basic kind is called protein energy malnutrition. It results from a diet lacking in energy and protein because of a deficit in all major macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Marasmus is caused by a lack of protein and energy with sufferers appearing skeletally thin. In extreme cases, it can lead to kwashiorkor, in which malnutrition causes swelling including a so-called ‘moon face’.
Other forms of malnutrition are less visible – but no less deadly. They are usually the result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies (micronutrients), which can lead to anemia, scurvy, pellagra, beriberi and xeropthalmia and, ultimately, death. (www.wfp.org)
Effects of malnutrition
Global solutions to malnutrition
Bangladesh – PCI/Bangladesh is a brand new project in an area that is dependent on agriculture, but is prone to cyclones and floods. Nearly half of its population of 135 million still lives below the poverty line. Over 40 percent of children under five suffer from stunting, and rates of acute malnutrition have recently shown a disturbing increase after decades of decline.
Through PCI’s partnership with PROSHAR (Program for Strengthening Household Access to Resources), there are great goals in the making. In Bangladesh, there is a great opportunity for small-scale dairy farming to be an employment vehicle that helps families achieve self-sufficiency. This is critical in areas where there are few income-generating activities. Within the first 5 years, PCI & PROSHAR interventions aim to help increase the incomes of many poor households, improve health & nutrition of women & children – especially combating the effects of malnutrition – and help strengthen communities’ resiliency to emergency shocks and their long term impact.
Ethiopia – Global statistics rank cases of malnutrition in Africa among the highest worldwide. PCI has mobilized an emergency response to facilitate access to clean water, nutrition and livelihoods support in drought-affected areas of Ethiopia. The driest period to affect the region since 1995, more than 12 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across the Horn of Africa as two consecutive seasons of interrupted rains have led to regional crop failure and deterioration of livestock. Moreover, the drought’s impacts have forced food prices beyond the reach of most families and exacerbated household food insecurity and malnutrition rates.
In partnership with other international aid organizations, PCI is mobilizing a response in remote regions of Afar where it has long standing programs through a livelihoods-centered approach to reinforce the capacities of drought-affected families. Initiatives currently underway include conducting nutritional assessments; providing nutritional support; implementing water, sanitation and hygiene interventions; and addressing the threat of diarrheal disease. PCI is focusing on both immediate interventions to save lives, as well as longer-term strategies to minimize vulnerability and reinforce long-term resiliency to drought and other threats to communities’ well-being.
PCI’s effort to help those suffering from malnutrition are often community-centered, designed to address the specific needs of the inhabitants of these at-risk communities. For example, we facilitate the construction of family gardens and the provision of small livestock to diversify and improve diets, and we also empower farmers by training and providing them with the tools necessary to increase crop yields, market their products, and improve their grain storage capacity and irrigation techniques.
Such projects also improve family income levels by promoting greater commercial enterprise. In particular, we target those most vulnerable to malnutrition – infants and young children – through nutrition counseling and breastfeeding promotion, growth monitoring, and supporting positive nutrition models within the local community.
PCI’s contributions to ending to malnutrition will continue as long as there are hungry people – especially hungry children – in our world.