Contra Costa Times

December 30, 1997


Malnutrition, a silent killer

MALNUTRITION KILLS between 6 million and 7 million children every year, according to UNICEF's annual report. Half the children in Southern Asia and a third of the children in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from it as well.

UNICEF calls it the silent emergency. Malnutrition receives few banner headlines, like the AIDS crisis does. There is no excuse for starvation -- what with technology and science making food as plentiful as it is. Yet famine and malnutrition aren't the same thing. Many of these children may be getting food. But what's missing are the nutrients they need to grow into healthy and productive adults.

UNICEF says at least 100 million young children and several million pregnant women have damaged immune systems not because of HIV or AIDS, but because of malnutrition.

The solutions are fairly simple, UNICEF says. We have the knowledge to greatly improve the health of the world's children. For example, by adding iodine to salt countries can greatly reduce iodine deficiency, preventing mental retardation among children. Vitamin A protects children against blindness and also strengthened the body's resistance to infection. By mid 1997 all but three of the 38 countries where Vitamin A deficiency crisis existed had adopted a policy of providing children with periodic high doses of Vitamin A supplement. In addition, many of these countries have adopted policies ensuring that women who seek prenatal care have access to daily iron supplements.

The solutions are within reach. UNICEF suggests in a $28 trillion global economy, it's more a matter of political will than a lack of resources that keeps the world from eliminating malnutrition. Fortunately, the United States has increased its commitment in 1998 from $600 million to $650 million. That's a good start in eradicating this silent killer.

Edition: CCT,  Section: A,  Page: 13

© 1997 Contra Costa Newspapers