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This year’s World Disasters Report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent highlighted the rise of hunger and malnutrition, its causes, and what can be done to help. “Every year some 9 million children across the world die before they reach their fifth birthday, and about one-third of these untimely deaths is attributed to undernutrition (Black et al., 2008).” According to the report, up to 90 percent of these deaths do not occur during food crises or famines but are attributed to long-term chronic hunger that leaves a child with a weak immune system and therefore vulnerable to diseases. “A child suffering from mild undernutrition, for example, is twice as likely to die from malaria as a well-nourished child – and the risk of death is ninefold for a child who is severely undernourished (WHO and UNICEF, 2007).”
In the report, Alfred Sommer, professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine points out “if we could get adequate vitamin A to all the children who need it in the world, we could prevent 1 to 2 million children from dying or going permanently blind every single year.” For children in need, vitamin A supplementation can help provide proper nutrition, which is especially critical during the first 1,000 days of life when damage can become irreversible. This time window includes the nine months in the womb, making it equally important for pregnant women to receive adequate nutrition. For example, pregnant women in India and Vietnam who received a multiple micronutrient supplement, in addition to iron and folic acid, had babies with higher birth weights and less stunting and illness compared with a placebo group. “Investing in vitamins and minerals is probably the most cost-effective development intervention that we have in the world today,” says Venkatesh Mannar, president of The Micronutrient Initiative. We couldn’t agree more.