G8 nutrition meeting offers chance to save millions of children

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

For less than the cost of a typical family’s weekly grocery bill in Europe, we can prevent a child from dying before his or her 5th birthday, Marielle de Sarnez and Eleni Theocharous argue ahead of the G8 Nutrition for Growth Summit on 8 June.

French MEP Marielle de Sarnez is a member of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and vice chair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Cypriot MEP Eleni Theocharous, a paediatric surgeon, is vice president of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and a member of the European People’s Party.

So how is it possible that we allow almost 3 million children to die from a lack of nourishment, or from diseases that could have been prevented with proper nutrition?

It’s a question we should all be asking our heads of states, ministers, politicians, and other key decisionmakers as they prepare to spend an entire day on Saturday (8 June) discussing childhood undernutrition and what to do about it. Ahead of this important meeting, we members of the European Parliament together with colleagues at the national level have signed a call for action. Today, more than 50 parliamentarians are calling for increased efforts to end the silent crisis of undernutrition.

On Saturday, the UK and Brazilian governments will host a Nutrition for Growth summit in London before the G8 meetings begin. Decisionmakers from developed and less developed regions of the world will join private foundations and the private sector to decide how we can ensure children around the world get enough nutritious food to eat during the first years of their lives.

It should focus their minds to know that during the time the summit will meet, another 6,000 children will have died due to a lack of adequate nutrition – a situation that is completely preventable with proven, basic solutions. We know that specific interventions – such as ensuring women and children can access essential vitamins and nutrients – during the 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday gives children the right start to grow up healthy.

If you think this preventable death sentence for so many children is completely unacceptable and must be halted, then we must bring to an end another dreadful and silent crisis occurring in parallel.

These are the 165 million children under five who won’t suffer a death sentence from undernutrition, but are sentenced to life. These children – referred to as ‘stunted’ – are unable to grow normally. They cannot develop the cognitive skills needed to fulfil their potential and to lead productive lives. This is not only devastating for these children and the adults they will be become, but it also slows economic growth.

Evidence shows that countries experiencing high rates of undernutrition can lose up to 11% of their annual GDP in lost productivity – undermining our collective efforts to improve global prosperity.

We cannot afford to neglect this issue any longer. We know it is possible to prevent children from dying at such a young age and to end this silent crisis of stunting. Not only is it possible, it is critical to do so.

If participants at the 8 June summit agree to make a strong financial commitment and set the right targets, governments can win, win and win again. In our view, governments, with help from private donors, can prevent the premature deaths of 2.3 million children each year (1st ‘win’), bring the stunting crisis to an end (2nd ‘win’) and improve global prosperity by as much as 2-8% of GDP (3rd ‘win).

So the call is simple. Let’s ensure the outcome of this first-ever global conference on child undernutrition counts. It must count in terms of the number of children who survive beyond the age of five to reach their full potential, and count in terms of sustainable economic growth for a more prosperous world.

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