By Dr. Leslye Heilig, Chair of the Together Women Rise Advocacy Group With RESULTS
Last month I spoke about my outrage over our failure to do more in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As some of my colleagues say, this represents over five million policy failures, as we have surpassed this number of reported global deaths, though the true number is likely far greater.
This month we move to a conversation about global malnutrition, which has unfortunately increased due to the pandemic — another negative impact of the societal disruptions that have been created by our lopsided response to COVID-19. Malnutrition and disruption of education have had disproportionate effects on girls and women.
In 2000, more than 32 percent of children from around the world under age five were stunted (too short for their age). By 2019 that rate had fallen to about 21 percent — a tremendous amount of progress. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, the rate has risen to closer to 25%. This is immoral at a time when malnutrition should be in the history books.
In 2020, according to UNICEF, 149 million children under the age of 5 were estimated to be stunted, and 45 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height). These are extraordinary numbers! Yet by 2022, COVID-19-related disruptions could result in an additional 9.3 million wasted children and 2.6 million stunted children, with 168,000 additional child deaths. Experts predict that pandemic-related disruptions to food and health systems could cause up to a 50 percent rise in global malnutrition — and wasting is expected to be the single biggest driver of increased child deaths. So, what can we do with our outrage?
There are companion bills in the House and the Senate — the bipartisan Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act (S.2956/H.R.4693) which calls for a coordinated strategy for USAID nutrition assistance and sets clear targets for reaching the most impoverished children and families with effective interventions. This legislation will assure U.S. leadership in ending severe child malnutrition.
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