In 2010, a particularly devastating “hunger season” in Niger threatened the lives of hundreds of thousands of young children.  The effective humanitarian response demonstrated just how far strategies to tackle malnutrition have improved in recent years.

Five years ago, new strategies were introduced whereby all but the severest cases were treated at home - many more children could be treated for malnutrition than ever before.  Since then, MSF has been trying out a new approach of distributing supplemental food to all children in a given area, with the goal of protecting them from malnutrition to begin with.  

In 2010, the government of Niger, UN agencies and humanitarian groups such as MSF used this approach to target all children under the age of two – those most at risk of malnutrition. Children were given new supplements with the essential mix of protein (milk), fats, vitamins and minerals they need. During the crisis, the World Food Program (WFP) gave supplemental food to 525,000 children, and MSF distributed milk-containing food supplements to 150,000 more.

Despite this success, most children receiving international food aid continue to receive products that aren’t adapted to their nutritional needs, as many of the larger donors continue to pay for or send inadequate foods.  In June 2010, MSF launched a campaign called ‘Starved for Attention’ in part to underscore the harmful double standard of the food aid system which provides children with nutritionally inadequate foods that would never be given to children in wealthy countries.

The international community is responding to the pressure: in 2010, WFP purchased five times more supplemental food than the year before.  Some major international food aid donors have already changed their policies, while others, like the US and the European Union, have said they are committed to ensuring that young children receive appropriate nutrition. MSF will continue to push until these urgently-needed changes are seen through.

Sign the petition and rewrite food aid policy for 195 million malnourished children: http://www.starvedforattention.org/

Dr. Unni KARUNAKARA, MSF International Council President “Foods we would never give our own children are being sent overseas as food aid to the most vulnerable children in malnutrition hotspots in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. This double standard must stop.”

 
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