The following first appeared on the Huffington Post.
I am a lucky mom.
I received quality prenatal care and gave birth in a state-of-the-art hospital. My kids received essential nutrition from the moment they were born through their early years, giving them a better chance to fight off disease and perform well in school. Today, they are on a path to reaching their full potential.
Many moms in developing countries such as Ethiopia, Niger and India aren’t so lucky.
In fact, children in an alarming number of countries do not get the nutrition they need from pregnancy to their second birthday–the critical window for ensuring healthy growth and development–according to Save the Children’s 13th annual State of the World’s Mothers report. The report shines a spotlight on the lifelong, if not deadly, impact chronic malnutrition has on millions of children across the globe.
Chronic malnutrition is a hidden crisis because it often goes unnoticed. Unlike the visibly emaciated children we see impacted by famine, children suffering from chronic malnutrition are not as easily identified — although the lack of nutrition is slowly stifling their physical and mental development.
At least 170 million children — more than twice the number of children living in the U.S — are robbed of a healthy and prosperous future due to the lack of proper nourishment. Tragically, malnutrition also is an underlying cause of child deaths. In fact, in this year alone, more than 7 million children will not reach their fifth birthday. One-third of these deaths can be attributed, in part, to malnutrition.
The ripple effect of this crisis impacts us all no matter what corner of the world we live in. Globally, the direct cost of malnutrition is estimated at $20 to $30 billion per year.
Enter the “Lifesaving Six” — a set of affordable nutrition interventions that often cost less than $20 per child to deliver. These lifesaving solutions include breastfeeding, complementary feeding, zinc, iron folate, vitamin A and good hygiene. While they are a subset of a larger package of nutritional interventions, Save the Children has identified the “Lifesaving Six” as solutions vetted by nutrition experts that are readily available and have the greatest potential to save lives now. In addition, we know that nutrition interventions, combined with medical interventions such as safe childbirth and pregnancy, neonatal care and vaccines, have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of children across the world.
We already are seeing progress.
In my travels to some of the poorest, most remote places on Earth, I have seen how the “Lifesaving Six” are reaching mothers with the help of well-trained and well-equipped community health workers. In a number of countries — including Bangladesh and Malawi — these health workers have contributed to broad-scale success in fighting malnutrition and saving lives.
In Malawi, for example, many children now receive the critical nutrition they need. Within an hour after birth, 95 percent of babies in Malawi are put to the breast. At six months, 71 percent are still being exclusively breastfed, and between six to nine months, 87 percent are breastfed and introduced to solid foods. The government of Malawi has put significant energy and resources into improving health services for its people, including a cadre of health workers who deploy to remote, rural areas to talk to moms and their families about important behaviors such as hygiene and breastfeeding. Overall, Malawi is an African success story, having reduced its under-five mortality rate by 59 percent since 1990.
Malawi is just one example of the hope for moms and children everywhere. We know what works. There is no excuse for why more mothers in developing countries do not have access to proven nutrition interventions.
Efforts of public and private sector organizations offer hope to help children in need. Save the Children works to resolve ongoing struggles children face every day – poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease – and replace them with hope for the future. Many private sector organizations join us in our work. We are grateful to our many partners, like Johnson & Johnson, for working with us in order to help improve the lives of mothers around the world.
We all have a role to play. This Mothers’ Day, let’s give moms no matter where they live the chance to give their kids a healthy a start in life.