UN food crisis summit must move beyond old, ineffective recipes

MSF calls for reforms to food aid and nutrition programmes to save young lives.
There are new and innovative ways of delivering all the nutrients children need to recover from or prevent malnutrition, and MSF has been able to reach far greater numbers of children in its field projects with new strategies. Rome/Geneva - As heads of state and nearly 20 key UN officials meet in Rome this week to design a plan to tackle the current global food crisis, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is urging the adoption and rapid scale-up of specific nutritional strategies that target children under two. Simply expanding existing interventions, which were already not able to address the ongoing malnutrition crisis, will certainly not protect the young children who are most vulnerable to rising food prices. "There is a dangerous double standard in which current food aid and nutrition programmes are driven more by cost considerations than by the specific nutritional needs of young children," said Daniel Berman, Deputy Director of MSF's Access Campaign. "The nutrient-rich food that growing children need will only reach them if new approaches backed by increased resources are adopted." Rapidly growing children have specific nutritional needs and small stomachs. They require food dense in energy and diverse in nutrients, which is best achieved by providing them animal-source foods such as dairy, eggs, meat or fish. Quality of food is as important as quantity and therefore policy makers must ensure nutrition security and not only food security. Soaring food prices will exacerbate malnutrition, with families not able to afford food nutritious enough for young children to grow, and to both avoid and overcome disease. For regions with long-standing malnutrition problems, conventional food aid does not include specific foods for young children. Milk powder was removed from relief food targeted at children in the late 1980s when milk surpluses subsided. Since then, children have been receiving fortified blended flours that contain no animal-source food - a diet which paediatricians do not recommend for children under two. Economic considerations have led to product, which is sub-optimal. "We need leaders to open their eyes to the needs of young children who are most vulnerable right now, and for whom more of the same could put them at risk," said Dr. Susan Shepherd, nutrition advisor at MSF. "One critical question this week is: will donors change the rules so that appropriate food for young children is added to food aid and nutrition programmes?" MSF is calling for food aid to change and for an energy-dense and nutrient-rich diet to be made available to at-risk children. There are new and innovative ways of delivering all the nutrients children need to recover from or prevent malnutrition, and MSF has been able to reach far greater numbers of children in its field projects with new strategies. The World Health Organization estimates there are 178 million children that are malnourished across the globe, and at any given moment, 20 million suffering from the most severe form of malnutrition. Malnutrition contributes to between 3.5 and 5 million deaths in children under five annually. According to MSF estimates only 3 percent of the 20 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition receive the UN-recommended treatment they need. MSF has treated over 150,000 children in 2006 and 2007 in 22 countries with therapeutic and supplemental food.