WFP Urges Doctors To Join Fight Against Malnutrition

Josette Sheeran and Harvey White, Vice President of the Royal Society of Medicine. Mr White is holding the red cup symbolising WFP's campaign to provide school meals for hungry children the world over.
 

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran has urged doctors and medical experts to put their knowledge to work to support the battle against malnutrition, a factor in 10,000 child deaths every day.  "We need to take the knowledge we have now and use it," she said.

LONDON -- WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran on Friday urged doctors and medical experts to put their knowledge to work to support the battle against malnutrition, a factor in 10,000 child deaths every day. Download audio

Speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Sheeran said that the world already had the ability and knowledge to tackle the challenge of malnutrition. What was lacking was the coordinated focus and political will, she said.

“We need to harness what we know – take the knowledge that we have right now and put it into action. We cannot wait,” she said in remarks to a breakfast meeting with a group of eminent doctors and medical experts.

Irreversible damage

If a child under two is deprived of the nutrition needed for mental and physical growth, the damage is irreversible, Sheeran noted, citing an authoritative study by the Lancet medical journal.

“For the world's bottom billion, can we take the technology and what we know, and ensure that there is access to nutrition? And can we stand with those under two year olds and at least make sure they are getting a shot at life?”

The costs of undernutrition are high. Without adequate nutrition children cannot learn in school, HIV/AIDS drugs don’t work, populations are more vulnerable to disease and economic growth is undermined.

High costs

Studies show that the financial cost can exceed 10% of GDP for poor countries. It has also been demonstrated that those deprived of adequate nutrition between conception and 2 years will earn half the income earned by those who received enough nutrition.

Yet ensuring that no child is stunted and no child’s brain is damaged because of lack of nutrition is not expensive. “The cost of tackling that issue is about 40 – 80 dollars a year per child, even in the world’s most difficult places,” she said.

Urging physicians to do what they could to help, Sheeran said three things were needed to defeat malnutrition: greater awareness of the challenge, the ability to harness existing knowledge and political will.