The calendar is about to turn the page on a new year and this new year brings hope for a world currently in the grip of a pandemic that has been wreaking havoc for months. COVID-19 has made 2020 the year we wish we could forget but never will. With the deployment of vaccines, the end of the pandemic and the resulting global disruptions appear to be in sight. But not everyone will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
While COVID-19 infections may have had the worst impact on the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, the disruptions it has caused and continues to cause have been most severe for those at risk. of the world, especially mothers, pregnant women and middle-income countries.
Why is it? Due to the impact of the pandemic on nutrition.
The pandemic is actually three crises in one. First, the economic crisis has resulted in the loss of jobs, income and a reduction in global gross domestic product (GDP). Second, a crisis in the food system has disrupted food supplies and limited the availability of food in markets, especially nutritious foods, while the price of food has also increased. Third, the health crisis and related lockdowns have led to reduced access to health and nutrition services, and limited health resources have been diverted to frontline prevention and treatment of COVID-19. These crises were particularly pronounced in the countries of the South.
How does this triple threat affect nutrition? The Standing Together for Nutrition consortium, a group of experts in nutrition, economics, and food and health systems who share deep concern about the potentially devastating effects of the crisis on nutrition, has actively researched the scale and scope of nutritional challenges related to COVID. . What we have found is not encouraging. The consortium predicts that the COVID-19 crisis could lead to a nutritional crisis for low- and middle-income countries over the next three years and beyond.
The consortium’s recent findings released as a pre-print in the Nature Foods project that by 2022 this nutritional crisis could lead to an additional 9.3 million wasted and 2.6 million children with delay growth. Wasting or acute malnutrition continues to be a leading cause of death among children in low- and middle-income countries. The increase in the number of wasted children could lead to 168,000 additional child deaths.
The pandemic will also affect maternal nutrition, with an additional 2.1 million cases of maternal anemia and 2.1 million children born to low body mass index mothers, putting these children at a disadvantage from the start. These additional cases of anemia during pregnancy would result in a loss of productivity of $ 79 million between 2020 and 2022, further exacerbating the economic crisis and its impact on access to nutritious food, health services and more.
If we do not act now, we run the risk of reversing years of progress and allowing inequalities to grow. We would lose an entire generation because the damage of undernutrition cannot be repaired.
So what can we do? We can stand together and invest in what works – in what gives us the best return on investment and in what will be a catalyst for all of our other investments: health, education, productivity. We need to invest in nutrition.
With GDP losses come tough budget decisions, now is not the time to withhold funding from international aid from donor countries, nor from nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive national development programs.
Our research estimates that additional funding of $ 1.2 billion per year is needed for the next three years, in addition to the 2017 Nutrition Investment Framework estimate of $ 7 billion per year to achieve the World Health Assembly 2025 nutritional goals. This funding can be used to keep food markets functioning, especially for fresh foods, and to promote nutritious, safe and affordable diets.
We can invest in improving maternal and child nutrition during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. We can use the funds to identify and treat children at risk of wasting and stunted earlier. We can make sure that we provide vulnerable children with nutritious and safe school meals, helping them learn. We can take advantage of social protection programs to access nutritious food and essential nutritional services.
If we do not make these investments, our research anticipates significant future productivity losses of nearly $ 30 billion. As we try to build a post-pandemic global economy, we can’t really afford such a large loss in productivity.
We already know that good nutrition is the foundation for healthy living, which leads to healthy and prosperous communities and countries. The impacts we are seeing now from COVID-19 will have implications in the future. Children who are irreversibly malnourished today will not do as well in school, will be more prone to chronic diet-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, and will be much more likely to live in poverty. And as adults, they are more likely to have malnourished children themselves.
If we don’t reverse child malnutrition in the short term, we are giving COVID-19 a terrible generational and intergenerational legacy. We must act now to ensure nutrition denies COVID this devastating legacy. Some countries have already pledged to fund global nutrition, including Canada, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Senegal. In 2021, we need others to join their own investments and we need to mobilize for nutrition.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.