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Today’s call from the 2020 Global Nutrition Report (GNR) to urgently address the slow and unequal progress on reducing all forms of malnutrition comes as the numbers of those food insecure globally is set to double*.
Action Against Hunger warns that COVID-19 must not divert attention away from life-saving malnutrition treatment and prevention if the world is to avoid greater numbers dying from the consequences of hunger than COVID-19 itself. More than ever in the context of COVID-19, the international community must put stronger health systems and fairer food systems at the heart of the response.
But today, the GNR reveals that not a single country is on track to meet the World Health Assembly (WHA) targets on reducing all forms of malnutrition. Worse still, the GNR warns that progress on malnutrition is deeply unequal and slow – in 2018 only 1 out of 3 children under five with severe acute malnutrition received treatment.
As already fragile health systems become overstretched because of COVID-19, there is an increased risk that essential nutrition services will be interrupted. This is already a reality in places where Action Against Hunger works, such as Myanmar and India.
In order to respond effectively and prevent further crisis, the international community must strengthen and protect existing health and nutrition services and remove the financial barriers to access them. Families should not be pushed further into poverty to access treatment as their livelihoods are impacted by COVID-19. That means urgently scaling up efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Nutrition must be a central component to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities. Community health workers have a crucial role in this and any training and support must include them as key members of the health workforce.
The GNR is right to focus on the limitations of food systems which do not enable countries to ensure the continuity of accessible, safe, affordable, nutritious, and healthy food. Action Against Hunger urges the international community to use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to transform industrial and unfair food systems and put agroecology at the centre of such a transformation. Nutrient-rich diverse food must be available for all, increasing climate resilience and limiting harm to biodiversity. We should not wait any longer to tackle health and food inequalities, which are mainly the result of political decisions.
Funding for COVID-19 must not come at the expense of funding for nutrition, particularly as current commitments to nutrition spending come to an end in 2020 – new financial and political commitments from donors are crucial. Similarly, the progress made to include nutrition spending in national budgets must not be lost – domestic investments from high-burden countries themselves are crucial in the fight against malnutrition.
Despite the postponement of the Tokyo N4G Summit in 2020 because of COVID-19, the world must not be distracted from the goal to end malnutrition – the lives of millions depend on it.
*265 million people are at risk of severe food insecurity in 2020, a leap from the 135 million in 2019.