Since the launch of The United Nations (UN) Zero Hunger Challenge in June 2012, chronic hunger has decreased worldwide. During a recent event hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC, experts highlighted the need to do more to eliminate hunger and ensure the right to adequate food. The event, titled The Zero Hunger Challenge; Achieving the Right to Food for All, brought together a distinguished panel to discuss timely questions including; what partners need to do differently to address hunger more effectively now; what direction partners should move in and how do we decide who invests where – all with the aim of achieving the following:
- Zero stunted children less than 2 years
- 100% access to adequate food all year round
- All food systems are sustainable
- 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income
- Zero loss or waste of food
While the level of chronic hunger has decreased in the last two years from 868 million people living in chronic hunger in 2010-2012 to 842 million people living in chronic hunger in 2011-2013, according to panelist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, assistant director-general and coordinator for economic and social development of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this represents only modest progress. While this reduction is commendable, it is not enough. Mr. Sundaram pointed out ”the target for nutrition for the Millennium Development Goals is not a particularly ambitious one”. Therefore, the Zero Hunger Challenge is legitimized in its approach, fully encompassing the benchmarks the world needs to hit in order to adequately address the hunger needs of our world today.
The health impacts of hunger are daunting, leading to malnutrition, stunting, vitamin A depletion and increased susceptibility to infections and illnesses. All these linkages were highlighted during the event at IFPRI; however, one major buzz word was missing when nutrition and health were being discussed-neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Interestingly enough, NTDs are also linked to malnutrition, stunting, Vitamin A depletion and increased susceptibility to infections and illness.
NTDs are an underlying challenge hindering nutritional goals. NTDs, particularly soil-transmitted helminths (STHs) and schistosomiasis, are important cofactors in causing and often leading to chronic malnutrition and hunger . These parasitic worms also suppress the appetite intensifying malnutrition. If child is left untreated for parasitic worms, within as few as two years, worm infections can deplete a child of vitamin A. Vitamin A is also crucial to a child’s physical and cognitive development. Furthermore, NTDs exacerbate anemia, particularly in pregnant women, and contribute to stunting in children. Some NTD control programs are integrated with Vitamin A distribution in schools and or iron supplementation programs to address anemia. However, more can be done on this front for global public health. Scaling-up integrated programs to comprehensively address nutrition and ultimately, hunger, will be essential to the Zero Hunger Challenge’s success.
The world still has much to do before meeting the Zero Hunger Challenge and I hope NTDs will not be left out of this conversation. NTDs must be addressed as an underlying issue to malnutrition. The inclusion of NTD control and elimination efforts will only help in meeting the first pillar of the Zero Hunger Challenge-zero stunted children less than 2 years.
You can join the fight too, sign the Zero Hunger Challenge Deceleration http://www.un.org/en/ zerohunger/pdfs/ZHC-Declaration.pdf. Join the conversation by tweeting at @GlobaLuv4Health and @ZeroHunger.