Most of us are aware that hunger is a problem in the world today. It's a fact that our parents threatened us with at dinner tables, that we saw plastered across infomercials, that we watched the physical tolls of in documentaries about faraway places. World hunger is arguably one of the most acknowledged of all global concerns.
And yet, hunger statistics are going in the wrong direction – today, 815 million people are going to bed hungry, up from 777 million in 2015, and global spending by donors on undernutrition is 0.5 percent of Overseas Development Assistance and less than one percent of national government budgets.1
Perhaps it's a situation in which our acute awareness of the issue has actually made us desensitized to its urgency. Obviously, nutrition is essential to human health but its impact also reaches further than that, affecting individuals' futures. Stunting due to malnutrition can negatively affect a child’s brain function, organ development, and immune system, which can result in poor achievement at school, decreased productivity and earnings in adult life, greater risk of developing obesity and diabetes later in life, and ultimately, diminished chances of escaping the cycle of poverty.2
When two-year-old Elton Mardiah was brought in to a clinic in Montserrado county in western Liberia, he was experiencing diarrhoea, vomiting and swollen extremities. Upon examination, he was diagnosed with Severe Acute Malnutrition. At the time, he weighed only 6.8 kilograms, 35% less than the healthy weight for a child of his height.
This situation is all too common in Liberia, where one in three children under the age of five are stunted or too short for their age as a result of poor nutrition over a long period of time.2
The Power of Nutrition is an organization looking to combat this trend. Set up in 2015 with the UBS Optimus Foundation as a founding partner and investor, the Power of Nutrition works to help address significant underfunding in the nutrition space.
To have long-term, positive impact, the Power of Nutrition has chosen to focus on 11 interventions that have the greatest impact on child stunting (i.e., vitamin supplementation, management of acute malnutrition, promotion of breastfeeding, etc.). They work with implementing partners and national governments to develop major nutrition programs that are designed to improve access to nutrition for mothers in the critical first 1,000 days of their children's lives and on into early childhood. Currently, they have live investments in nine countries with high levels of stunting, and have reached over 22 million people with over USD 400 million in nutrition programs.3
In the future, the Power of Nutrition aims to:
- mobilise new funds for nutrition and unlock USD 1 billion in new investment by 2022;
- scale up nutrition services to reach an additional 17 million children and 18 million women;
- increase national governments’ prioritisation of nutrition through policy development; and
- generate a greater international focus on tackling undernutrition.
For children like Elton, the care made possible through the Power of Nutrition has been life-changing – he was able to receive routine medication and weekly rations of ready-to-eat therapeutic food, specifically designed to treat children with Severe Acute Malnutrition.
The clinic that provided care to Elton is one of the 127 health facilities supported by the Power of Nutrition and UNICEF – UK. Elton is one among over 18,000 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition across Liberia who were admitted and treated in government health facilities in 2017.