The anti-pandemic strategies – lockdown, trade restrictions and school closure – have disrupted the food system and the availability of the nutritious food to the poor people forcing millions of families to rely on nutrient-poor alternatives
NEW DELHI — The disruption of economic activities and the food system due to the coronavirus disease has forced 6.7 million children to be severely malnourished across the world.
In an article published in the prestigious health magazine, The Lancet, leaders of United Nations (UN) agencies also said that this was particularly true of low-income and middle-income countries.
The authors of the article are Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, David Beasley, Executive Director of the Word Food Programme and Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.
The article titled ‘Child Malnutrition and Covid-19: The Time to Act is Now’ has underlined how the anti-pandemic strategies–lockdown, trade restrictions and school closure–have disrupted the food system and the availability of the nutritious food to the poor people forcing millions of families to rely on nutrient-poor alternatives.
This situation also emerged in India as incidents of children eating frogs in the absence of food during the lockdown had come to light from some areas of the country.
“Without timely action, the global prevalence of child wasting (acute malnutrition) could rise by a shocking 14·3%. With an estimated 47 million children younger than 5 years affected by wasting globally before the COVID-19, this would translate to an estimated additional 6·7 million children with wasting during the first 12 months of the pandemic—80% of them in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia—and more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month during this same period,” noted the article pointing to the gravity of the situation.
Apart from the food shortage, there is another challenge of not getting proper treatment and medicines to the malnourished children due to the disruption in the transportation and other activities.
“With services for the prevention and treatment of wasting to a large extent up-ended in low-and-middle-income countries, millions of children are at risk of not receiving the care they need to survive and thrive,” the article noted.
The estimated increase in child wasting is only the tip of the iceberg. The authors observed, “The COVID-19 pandemic is also expected to increase other forms of child malnutrition, including stunting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight. The global community’s failure to act now will have devastating long-term consequences for children, human capital, and national economies”.
As leaders of the UN agencies, they have urged the world to take five urgent actions to deal with this situation of rising child malnourishment.
1. Safeguard and promote access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets.
2. Invest in improving maternal and child nutrition through pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood.
3. Re-activate and scale up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting.
4. Maintain the provision of nutritious and safe school meals for vulnerable children.
5. Expand social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential services.
The UN leaders said that their teams were ready to support the governments and partners in implementing these five urgent actions.