Death Has An Accomplice Called Malnutrition

  • In 2021, 45% of deaths in children were linked to undernutrition and the greater number of deaths occurred in cases of children under five years of age.
  • A deficiency of Vitamin A alone was responsible for the deaths of 670,000 children under the age of 5 and up to 500,000 thousand cases of blindness in children under 5 years old.
  • COVID-19 and the reduction in nutrition is estimated to increase the prevalence of death in children under five by 128,000 in one year alone.
  • The number yet to die in the Ukraine remains to be seen.
Thanks to Aalmeidah for Image
  • In 1996, the World Food Summit of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN set a goal – reduce the number of undernourished worldwide (400 million people) by 2015.
  • In 2001, a report was released by WHO, which stated that ” malnutrition casts long shadows, affecting close to 800 million people (20% of all people in the developing world.”)

A cry goes out for the hungry to be fed and their hunger is investigated. An alarm is sounded for the homeless to be sheltered and a report is filed on their plight. Many are diagnosed sick and seminars are held to discuss the underprivileged. Hours and dollars are spent analyzing all aspects of their situation and still they are hungry, homeless and sick. All that changes is that there are more of them. Numerous efforts to stop malnutrition, but the achievements of these world agencies have fallen short of the goals.

Thank to Mohamed_Hassan for Image

If the mother cannot obtain the needed calories and proteins before and during her pregnancy, her newborn will begin life outside her womb with a low birth weight. Still, the newborn has a chance of a healthy childhood. However, add to this tenuous beginning, early weaning, poor feeding habits and a lack of sanitation then malnutrition is probable. The body needs its’ proteins, calories, vitamins and minerals for growth and development. Without those necessary provisions, low weight persists, eyes and fontanel (the soft spot on top of the head) become sunken, skin and tissues lose elasticity and the newborn will lose its’ ability to regulate body temperature.

No part of the body is safe when proper nourishment is denied. Children must have a sufficient intake of iron, iodine, zinc and vitamin A. Have you heard of PEM? PEM stands for protein-energy malnutrition. The most serious forms of PEM are Marasmus, Kwashiokor and a combination of both. The first (Marasmus) is a progressive wasting away that establishes itself in the newborn between the ages of 6 and 18 months and then slowly becomes detectable as a loss of weight and muscle, giving the appearance of skin sticking to the bones and an old person’s face. The babe will cry a lot. The second (Kwashiorkor) has its’ roots in the African language. The meaning of the word is “deposed child” referring to a child being replaced at the mother’s breast by another baby. The “deposed sibling” begins to retain fluids, then develops a look of bloating in the extremities and in the abdomen caused by caloric deficiency plus a lack of proteins. Sometimes, the babe’s face resembles a full moon and there may be skin lesions and changes in hair color and texture. Depending on age, the liver shows visible signs of swelling. If left untreated, each of these conditions can prove fatal and if perchance, the suffering babe/child survives, the lingering effects and consequences of these conditions can become the chronic illnesses of adulthood such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Thanks to Conger for Photo

No-one will argue for long with the premise that the direct cause of malnutrition is lack of food, but there are deeper social, economic and environmental causes among which poverty is the principal condition. Other factors that contribute to PEM are 1) a lack of knowledge 2) diarrhea 3) malaria 4) infections 5) unequal distribution of food and 6) discrimination against women. Add to these, the cultural tendency for women to often eat “last and least”.

“It is a sad truth, that often it is the poor in fertile developing countries that must stand by and watch, with empty hands-and empty stomachs-while the ample harvests and bumper crops are exported for hard cash” says WHO. Despite the present statistics, the FAO and their visions of a future with food for everyone, everyday, everywhere, remain intact.

I am neither optimistic or pessimistic, only a realist. It will take more than increased production and distribution of food to realize the hopes and dreams of the many countries, governments and private organizations, that work hard to establish food supplementation programs, nutrition education courses, protective measures for clean water, sanitation facilities, vaccination campaigns and modernized farms and hospitals.

Widespread justice and unselfish interest in others are needed; noble traits not typical of modern commercialism. Indignation and confrontation will not accomplish effective change. Were Mahatma Ghandi at my table this evening he would say: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”


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