Technical brief |

Food is Not Enough - Without Essential Nutrients Millions of Children Will Die, Malnutrition background document

Persistent high rates of child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia will not be reduced if malnutrition is not addressed more aggressively.

This is a medical emergency.

MSF teams see the devastating impact of childhood malnutrition every day, having treated more than 150,000 children in 99 programmes in 2006. Malnutrition weakens resistance and increases the risk of dying from pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and AIDS, five diseases that are responsible for half of all deaths in children under five.1

Despite its overwhelming contribution to child mortality and its impact on longterm health, treatment of malnutrition has not been a high enough priority in international and national public health planning and programming. Current policies to address malnutrition have serious flaws. Many programmes designed to reduce mortality of young children from malnutrition focus on changing behaviours of mothers, education about proper food choices and addressing poverty or food security. 

Such strategies are insufficient because mothers in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa or Asia don’t just need advice about how to feed their children. They need access to foods that contain the 40 essential nutrients a young child, particularly under the age of three, needs to grow and be healthy. Exclusive breastfeeding, which is widely promoted, is only enough to meet the nutritional needs until six months of age.

Addressing the long-term challenges of poverty and food security is equally important but is not enough to address the needs of malnourished children that are at greatest risk of dying today.