I fear I am getting fat. It is always a danger on a MSF mission, where you have little control over food, little opportunity to exercise, and mealtime is the main social activity. And of course, where you rely on Pringles as a stress-management strategy. It’s ironic, though, as Grant is under the exact same circumstances and it seems to have the opposite effect on him. So unfair!
Even more ironic is that I am currently in one of five nutrition projects we have here in Chad. So as I indulge in a mid-afternoon dunk in the Nutella jar (a rare but cherished treat), we have thousands of malnourished kids under 5 lining up each week for their supply of Plumpy Nut – the high-energy, protein-rich, fortified, peanut-based power bar that will hopefully put some meat on their bones.
According to the MSF nutrition webpage, 195 million children suffer the effects of malnutrition every year, 90% of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Malnutrition is a factor in 1/3 of all deaths of children under 5, exacerbating the effects other illnesses. While the vast majority do not die from malnutrition or associated illness, they do suffer physical and mental delays that will shape them through to adulthood. This damage occurs largely before their second birthday.
How’s that for my paragraph of hard-hitting statistics?
This year was particularly bad in Chad as there was drought in 2009, wiping out huge tracts of the 2010 harvest. Between March and August, MSF opened 12 emergency nutrition programs across the country and integrated similar activities in its longer-term projects. As of December, we have treated more than 30,000 children for severe malnutrition. And counting.
In addition to running nutrition projects across Africa and Asia, MSF has launched a multi-media campaign called “Starved for Attention” to bring attention the issue of malnutrition. Not only are they advocating for increased aid money to address the issue, they stress that the type of assistance given must change. Typical food aid is in the form of fortified cereal blends of rice and soy, which do not meet basic nutritional standards for infants and small children. MSF is advocating for the provision of food supplements that target the specific nutritional needs of these most vulnerable.
You can learn more about their campaign and sign a petition at www.starvedforattention.org.
There has been a lot of baby talk around me lately as friends and family members pop out baby-buntings in quick succession. Lots of researching and discussing different child-rearing techniques and trends, including detailed menu planning for babies as they transition from liquids to solids, avoid potential allergens, and have the perfect balance of different colours on their plates. I eagerly take notes for my own future reference.
But I can’t help but contrast this to the women who arrive at our feeding centres, with a baby slung on their back, a toddler at their side and older siblings waiting back home in their mud huts. Their diet is based on millet and maize; soupy and sweet in the morning and boiled into a big ball for the evening. Hopefully a bit of goat meat or some beans, for the older children at least. Maybe some peanuts and sweet potato? What, of that bounty, will make its way to the two-year old’s tummy?