Child deaths from spills are predictable and preventable: WHO chief
Convened by the UK government, the day-long conference brought together representatives from more than 20 countries to strengthen efforts to achieve zero hunger and end malnutrition in line with Goals for sustainable development (SDGs).
Way off track
Speaking at a session on creating new approaches to stopping preventable child deaths, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world is far from achieving these goals.
“By the time we have finished our meeting today, around 900 children will have died because they do not have enough food or care – children whose lives have only just begun,” he said.
Of the 45 million under-fives who are wasted, more than a third have the most severe form of the condition, with the highest risk of death.
Weak and wasteful
Tedros explained that a child who is moderately or severely wasted is 11 times more likely to die than a child who is not malnourished, often because their bodies are too weak to fight diarrhea and pneumonia.
Although the factors driving waste vary, they are largely the result of poverty and rising food prices, preventable diseases, inadequate access to health care, and lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Conflicts, the climate crisis, natural disasters and resource depletion all dramatically increase the risk of hunger and famine,” he said.
Maternal nutrition important
Tedros added that “malnutrition is also generational”, as an infant’s nutritional status is closely linked to their mother’s before, during and after pregnancy.
Poor maternal nutrition inhibits fetal development, which contributes to low birth weight, wasting and poor growth.
Children who survive will suffer from malnutrition and poor health for most of their lives, stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, debt and poor health.
Therapeutic food essential
He said severe acute malnutrition can be treated with therapeutic milk, food and fluid support, depending on the child’s needs.
However, although treatment coverage has increased, many children who need it cannot access adequate care. WHO this year added ready-to-use therapeutic foods to its List of essential medicines which he hopes will increase their production and availability while reducing costs.
Identify at-risk infants
Tedros reviewed some of the information in the guidance, which emphasizes the importance of adequate nutrition at home, access to high-quality health services and early identification of both distressed mothers and infants at risk of poor growth and development.
WHO collaborates with the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEFand other UN agencies to support governments and health workers in implementing the recommendations and adapting them to country needs.
“We are seeing some encouraging signs of progress. Twenty-three countries have now completed national roadmaps to tackle child wasting,” he reported.
“Now we must support these countries to turn their roadmaps into action and save lives.”
In closing, Tedros thanked the UK for convening the summit and stressed that child deaths from spills are predictable and preventable.
“WHO looks forward to working with all of you to make food a source of life and hope for all children in our world,” he said.