What problem can be found in every country in the world and affects one in three people globally? What problem is so rife that the World Health Organisation (WHO) terms it “the new normal.”? The surprising answer is malnutrition. It is not an issue that grabs many headlines or attracts much funding, yet malnutrition in its various forms, from hunger and wasting to obesity, has become the number one driver of global disease and the underlying cause of nearly half of all global child deaths.
Global Summit Global Action
The leading platform in the fight against malnutrition is the Global Nutrition Summit, the first global forum of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition. The recently concluded Global Nutrition Summit 2017 gathered an impressive array of governments, international agencies, foundations, civil society organizations and businesses to Milan, Italy.
It was convened with the objective of taking stock of nutrition commitments made to date, celebrating progress toward global goals on nutrition, and announcing additional commitments to accelerate the global response to malnutrition in all its forms.
The Global Nutrition Summit drew a strong African contingent including world leaders Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and Graca Machel, Founder of the Graca Machel Trust; high-level representatives of the governments of Tanzania, Niger, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Zambia and business leaders such as Aliko Dangote, Founder of the Aliko Dangote Foundation and Chairman of the Dangote Group, Africa’s largest home-grown conglomerate.
They joined international stakeholders including the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID), the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Coalition on Advocacy for Nutrition.
An Unprecedented Pledge
The Global Summit highlighted the cost of malnutrition to both societies and individuals. The Global Nutrition Report 2017 launched at the Summit, showed that despite progress, 155 million children globally are stunted and the world is off track on meeting internationally agreed nutrition targets. Compounding the issue, global financing to tackle malnutrition has been alarmingly low. Donors spend only about 0.5 percent of overseas aid on nutrition, and countries allocate between one and two percent of their health budgets to the issue.
Fortunately, funding was an area in which the Global Summit did record some landmark successes. The major highlight of the Summit was the unprecedented pledge by the Aliko Dangote Foundation to invest US$100 Million over five years to tackle malnutrition in the worst-affected parts of Nigeria.
“Nigeria’s high malnutrition rate is undermining progress towards improving child health and survival and putting the brakes on economic development,” said Zouera Youssoufou, Managing Director and CEO of the Aliko Dangote Foundation. “By investing in nutrition, we aim to directly improve the lives of Nigerian families and to empower our citizens to reach their full potential.”
African governments also announced new commitments: Ethiopia, through its National Nutrition Program, pledged to reduce the prevalence of stunted; underweight and wasted children under five. Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Zambia, also made commitments to expand domestic programmes to improve nutrition for mothers and children. In total, the Summit succeeded in galvanizing US3.4 billion according to the organisers.
“The global malnutrition crisis endangers the physical and mental wellbeing of present and future generations” said Kofi Annan, speaking at the summit in his capacity as Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation. “Progress in tackling both under nutrition and obesity is possible with targeted commitments, like those made here today. We need further urgent investments so that people, communities and nations can reach their full potential.”
Why Africa and Nigeria Must Act
The response from African leaders at the Global Summit was both heartening and critical. African children and women in particular are the front-line casualties in the global battle against malnutrition. GDP losses from malnutrition average 11 percent in Africa according to the World Bank and improved nutrition is a prerequisite for achieving other development targets.
Unfortunately, Nigeria boasts not only Africa’s largest population but also the continent’s highest numbers of malnourished children. Almost half of the one million children who die before the age of five in Nigeria, die of malnutrition as the underlying cause. Without proper nutrients during the first 1,000 days of life starting from conception up to their second birthday, children are less likely to survive childhood diseases such as malaria and pneumonia, and are less likely to escape poverty as adults. They become physically and cognitively stunted, a fate that has befallen 11 million of Nigeria’s children under five.
Looking Forward With Hope
The Aliko Dangote Foundation is on a mission to reduce the prevalence of under nutrition by 60 percent in the neediest areas of Nigeria, specifically the North East and North West, where malnutrition has affected millions of lives and crippled the local economy.
With this US$100 Million commitment, the Aliko Dangote Foundation will promote scalable and cost-effective nutrition interventions such as breast feeding, healthy sanitation practices, disease prevention, food fortification and supplementation. These activities complement other long-term programs on education, empowerment, food security, water, sanitation and health care.
"We recognise nutrition as a cross-cutting issue which affects other critical development goals, that is why nutrition has become our core focus. We want to reach one million malnourished children in Nigeria by 2021 and we know that for every dollar invested in nutrition, the nation as a whole will reap huge economic dividends,” said Aliko Dangote.
The good news is that malnutrition is beatable. It is not a natural disaster that one cannot predict or a communicable disease for which there is no cure. But the fight does demand leadership – zero tolerance on malnutrition from policy makers, more integrated interventions from the public and private sectors and decisive actions backed by greater investments. Through his Foundation, Aliko Dangote looks set to become the strongest voice for nutritional leadership nation