Increased unemployment rates and frequent lockdowns during the pandemic have limited families’ access to food markets. These two factors, among others, have led to an increase in food insecurity and negatively impacted people’s health.
During an ICFJ webinar titled, “Malnutrition Before and After COVID-19,” Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization, said disruptions in the food supply chain have led to price increases and heightened concerns about food security. Since 3 billion people in the world cannot afford a healthy diet, he said, the food system is falling short of what’s needed during the current health crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that food systems are vulnerable,” said Branca, who went on to discuss the devastating effects the pandemic has had on people’s nutrition and health, and how social protection mechanisms, such as health services, have been insufficient.
Branca noted that children have been hit hard with malnutrition, as school closings eliminated an important source for nutritious meals. Although data has been difficult to collect during the pandemic, some nutritionists anticipate an additional 6.7 million children have experienced malnutrition during the past year — an increase of almost 15%.
There is an urgent need to ensure that children have continuous access to nutritious food throughout the remainder of the current global health crisis and beyond. Solutions include: promoting access to nutritious, affordable diets; investing in maternal and child nutrition; scaling up services for the detection and treatment of child wasting; maintaining access to nutritional meals at school for vulnerable kids; and expanding social protections to preserve access to both nutritious meals and essential services, said Branca.
There is a lack of reporting in the media explaining why people living in poverty are struggling with malnutrition. Branca mentioned that people tend to generalize, when what’s needed is a deeper exploration into the dynamics that drive poverty. It’s a matter of understanding the circumstances behind the statistics.
On the other hand, the positive stories include instances where there has been public investment in nutrition. “Ethiopia is a success story of stunting reduction,” Branca said — a result of government investment and intervention in a host of areas.
According to UNICEF, the Ethiopian government took decisive action “in health and other nutrition-specific sectors to put in place policies, programmes and large-scale interventions to significantly reduce all forms of malnutrition among the most vulnerable groups, young children and pregnant and lactating women.”
Will Moore, CEO of the Eleanor Crook Foundation, noted: “Most people don’t know this, but in today’s world malnutrition is still the leading cause of child deaths worldwide. For millions of families each and every year, malnutrition means the slow and painful death of a child.”
Taylor Dibbert is a Program Manager at the International Center for Journalists.
Funded by the Eleanor Crook Foundation, the Global Nutrition and Food Security Reporting Fellowship is part of ICFJ's Global Health Crisis Reporting Initiative.