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World leaders must act fast to keep promise to end child deaths by 2030

by Jean-Michel Grand | @JeanMichelGrand | Action Against Hunger - UK
Friday, 14 October 2016 16:20 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Excuses for the fact 16 million children under the age of five are experiencing deadly levels of hunger and disease have worn thin

Excuses for the fact 16 million children under the age of five are experiencing deadly levels of hunger and disease have worn thin. Platitudes will not save the lives of up to two million children who will likely lose their fight against the most severe form of malnutrition this year – a condition that is easily prevented and treated.

Last year, world leaders promised to end hunger by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 2). We all celebrated this ambitious but achievable target. After all, in just five years we had witnessed the number of severely malnourished children receiving treatment triple from just over one million in 2009 to more than three million in 2014.

Unfortunately, we are now at risk of that promise being broken. Progress in the fight to end child hunger has stagnated in the past year. At the current pace, it could take 150 years to eliminate preventable child deaths from severe malnutrition. That is simply unacceptable.

Let’s be clear, these children are not dying because they are lost causes. They are dying because they cannot access the basic, low-cost treatment they need to get better.  For every 10 children who suffer from the most severe form of hunger worldwide, only two are currently able to access treatment.

In the past 10,000 years of evolution, despite great strides in agriculture, industry and business, the world has come to accept that no matter how many people have plenty to eat, millions of others will starve.

But that does not need to be the case. On World Food Day 2016, we are closer than ever to our vision of a world without hunger. In the past decade we have made considerable progress in the treatment of severe malnutrition.

Modest and effective products, such as colour-coded measuring tapes that allow thousands of workers who cannot read or write to correctly identify and treat severely malnourished children, and therapeutic food - essentially a fortified peanut butter - can cure the most severe form of malnutrition within a few weeks and has enabled us and others to save the lives of more children than ever before.

But now is not the time for complacency.

A few weeks ago, footage of young children on the brink of starvation at a nutrition centre in Hodeidah, Yemen finally made it into the mainstream news agenda. This distressing footage showed the world the cruel reality facing tens of thousands of families caught up in the brutal violence and airstrikes that have engulfed the country.

Viewers were rightly aghast at the sight of these fragile young children wasting away, as blockades prevent vital food and aid reaching those who need it most. Sadly, our teams are witnessing children in these conditions in many other countries, including South Sudan and northeast Nigeria.

Maybe we cannot stop war or violence, perhaps we cannot stop airstrikes, but we can ensure we do our best to reach as many children who need life-saving treatment as possible, while efforts to secure peace continue.

Today, we are at a crossroads. If the world truly wants to make good on its promise to end preventable child deaths by 2030 we need commitments to be translated into concrete action. We need political will for children to access treatment.

That is why, as part of a new coalition of leading international aid organisations called No Wasted Lives, Action Against Hunger has committed to doubling the number of children receiving life-saving treatment for severe malnutrition to six million a year by 2020.

To do this, together with other organisations we will:

-        Reduce the cost of curing severely malnourished children to less than $100

-        Halve the cost of therapeutic foods required to cure a child from severe malnutrition

-        Invest and identify treatment approaches capable of reaching 70% of all severe malnutrition cases in their catchment areas

-        Make severe malnutrition a political priority by supporting countries with the highest burdens to adopt scale up targets

To scale-up treatment and save more lives we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we simply need it to turn.

Jean-Michel Grand is executive director of Action Against Hunger UK.