Food Insecurity in Africa
East Africa faces a drought this growing season after two consecutive failed growing seasons. Growing food insecurity in Africa poses a threat to the younger residents of the area. Disease, child marriages and malnutrition spread as the drought continues. Organizations such as UNICEF and USAID work daily to provide resources to the Horn of Africa to prevent deaths.

Drought in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa contains residents of Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea and other countries on the East African Peninsula. UNICEF reported that 2022 marks the third failed rain and farming season in the Horn of Africa. As the drought ravages this section of Africa, a lack of water and crops spreads diseases and worsens malnutrition in children. UNICEF estimates that 1.7 million children need treatment for severe acute malnutrition and could reach 2 million in a matter of weeks without rain in their region.

Rising Food Prices in International Market

Russia invaded Ukraine in mid-February and offset the foreign food market. The invasion of Ukraine concurrently arose at the start of various countries’ growing seasons. Food prices on the international market have soared in this time to prices that exacerbated food insecurity in Africa. During a typical year, other countries would rely on their own crops during this economic fall, but the drought has decimated the essential crops needed to feed families.

Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe and provides wheat supplies to the international market. According to The New Humanitarian, farmers did not plant as many fields due to the invasion. The economy struggles as ports close and they can no longer export to developing nations such as those located in the Horn of Africa.

Solutions to Food Insecurity

It is now up to governments to intervene as food insecurity in Africa worsens. Help with imports, agricultural techniques during droughts and food for families are all necessary to combat the effects of the international market and drought on food insecurity. UNICEF provides Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to treat children suffering from malnutrition. These supplies prevent wasting in children. Wasting has a high risk of death since the children are low weight compared to their height. RUTF helps children gain weight quickly with high nutritional value and is consumable directly from a packet. “Between 2017 and 2021, UNICEF procured some 2 million cartons for South Sudan,” UNICEF stated. As the drought continues, parents in the Horn of Africa debate how to save their children from malnutrition.

UNICEF partners with local governments as the drought takes students out of school and into child marriages. Parents exchange their kids in hopes their children receive food through the union, Forbes reported. They believe that in their married state the children will avoid wasting. UNICEF’s programs assist mothers to measure their children’s Mid-Upper Arm Circumference to gauge their level of malnutrition. Prevention of child marriages and assisting mothers with malnourished children are crucial to UNICEF. They advocate for funding and policies on a national level to provide help with food insecurity in Africa as the drought continues and the international market’s prices rise.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides aid during the drought. It donated $161 million to the Horn of Africa in 2022 and called for new donors to assist as the drought and rising food prices impede the lives of families and children. This money supports agriculture and livestock, clean drinking water, medical supplies and nutrition assistance for malnourished children.

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia increases food prices and strains Africa’s imports. Preventing food insecurity in Africa requires additional funding and policies. Children face the threat of starvation the hardest and need life-saving RUTFs and aid.

– Sara Sweitzer
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in Children
The first 1,000 days of pregnancy to the infant’s second birthday are the most important for the children’s growth. The effects of malnutrition in children between the first two years of birth are irreversible. Malnourished infants are more prone to dying during infancy, susceptible to chronic health issues and likely to face development issues. Additionally, acute hunger has a serious effect on infants. Poor nutrition is responsible for 45% of the causalities of children under the age of 5. That is 3.1 million children each year.

However, hope exists. A dynamic duo –RUTF (Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food) and CMAM (Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition)– has revolutionized the way healthcare systems function in low-middle-income countries.

Life Before

During the hunger crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, centralized Therapeutic Feeding Centers (TFCs) emerged to nurse malnourished children back to health. The TFCs delivered nourishments through therapeutic milk, which needed clean water and on-site preparations. Additionally, the TFCs had to operate around the clock, making them scarce and distant from local communities as it was difficult to find 24-hours staffing. Mothers would often have to leave home for weeks, endangering their livelihood and possibly the lives of their other children.

TFCs proved ineffective as mothers would withdraw their kids in between treatments to return home in time for work. The children in the centers were also more vulnerable to infections due to unsanitary conditions, resulting in millions of relapses. Consequentially, some died due to the shortened treatments and exposure to deadly diseases.

Also, for countries going through civil unrest, it is dangerous to set up feeding centers out in the open. The centers could fall victim to airstrikes or ground attacks. Thus, the idea of centralized systems appeared increasingly self-defeating.

What is RUTF?

RUTFs are energy-dense, micronutrient-rich pastes used in therapeutic feeding. These soft foods are a homogeneous blend of lipid-rich foods that have a nutrient profile close to the WHO-recommended therapeutic milk formula that some in patient therapeutic feeding services use. Typical ingredients for RUTF include peanuts, oil, sugar, milk powder, vitamin and mineral supplements. RUFTs are a safe and cost-effective therapeutic food. It provides malnourished children with the essential nutrients needed for development in a single serving.

Not only does it provide all of the nutrients necessary for recovery, but even after opening it has a long shelf life and does not spoil quickly. Since RUTFs are not dependent on water, the chance of bacterial growth is very low, making it safe to use at home without refrigeration. Youngsters enjoy RUTF, being healthy and convenient to use without medical supervision. Finally, people should use it in accordance with breastfeeding and other baby and young child feeding best practices.

What is CMAM?

The primary objective of therapeutic food was to spare mothers from traveling long distances and instead enable them to feed their children at home. Therefore, the former system underwent decentralization and became fragmented into community-based programs.

This approach became known as the Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), which transformed the entire healthcare system, along with RUTF. The primary purpose of this scheme was to bring food closer to the communities so that the children who were not suffering from serious complications could receive treatment at home. As a result, the system became safer, less crowded and hassle-free.

Typically, healthcare workers diagnosed malnutrition in children using the weight and height ratio. However, this is very time-consuming, expensive and labor-intensive to do on a community level. The solution to this problem was using a simple plastic strip that measured the mid-upper-arm circumference to inspect for malnutrition. Usage of the plastic MUAC tape made it increasingly easier to carry out the diagnosis quickly.

Helping Malnourished Children

After the initial skepticism upon the efficacy of the treatment, the idea of quick and easily accessible treatments grew popular among mothers. Together, CMAM and RUTF were able to curb the impact of famine. Usually, during a famine, the standard aim is to keep the child mortality rate under 10%. However, it commonly exceeds the goal, recording a 20% to 30% child mortality rate. But with the combination of CMAM and RUTF, the child mortality rate reduced to below 4.5%. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared CMAM as an effective system to fight malnutrition, which spurred a revolution in the healthcare system, saving the lives of millions of children worldwide.

Malnutrition in children can have a lifelong impact on their well-being if not treated properly. Luckily, the invention of RUTF, teamed up with the efficiency of the CMAM, is helping save the lives of millions of children while ensuring they live healthy and prosperous lives.

Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr