I was reading an article recently and it brought to light an interesting point: “According to the WHO, malnutrition is the gravest single threat to global public health.” I think we all agree with this statement due the great effects malnutrition has on other areas of health and development in general. If people are starving, they are going to suffer from more infectious disease. If people are sick and starving they are not going to be able to live a productively and bring an income to their family, so they can buy and make food. The list can go on and it is easy to get depressed about the subject and feel overwhelmed. Where on earth do we start if we want to try to provide a successful intervention for malnutrition? I do not think there are any easy answers. This is a question that world leaders and development workers continually ask themselves. I do not think there is a shortage of good intentions in this world. For the most part, people do not like the idea of millions of people suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Who wants to hear about almost 16,000 children dying every day from hunger-related causes? It is just difficult to transfer these good intentions into actions that truly aid those suffering with sustainable development.
I want to talk about some ideas from a book I read last year for one of my classes. Don’t be fooled by the title. You can find most of it online here if you are interested in reading more. I want to point out the subtitle, which sums up the point of the book in one sentence: Why the West’s efforts to aid the Rest have done so much ill and so little good. Check out this article about the book for a summary and basic analysis. By using statistics, facts, and pointing out some hard truths, William Easterly discusses development work, including malnutrition intervention, in the past and how it is so often ineffective. If the world has the abundance of wealth that is does today, why are so many children still dying from nutrition related states? He argues that in order to truly aid those suffering in poverty and poor health, we need to take on a “searchers” mentality. Searchers take into consideration the local customs, traditions, and needs and find ways to provide interventions that are appropriate and effective. We need to realize that it may not happen with fireworks and glory all at once, but that piece by piece, real improvement can be done. This approach is compared to that of “planners” which consists of coming up with a way to solve the problem in the West, and imposing it on people despite differences in culture, society, and knowledge. It almost always fails, and yet no one is held accountable for this failure of expended funds. The novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver highlights this idea of planners in the Congo. For instance, searchers would try to come up with an intervention for malnutrition by addressing a specific situation in a village by asking questions like why are people hunger? who is suffering from malnutrition? what cultural factors are affecting the reasons people are malnourishes? what can be done to change these reasons that will be culturally understood and accepted? what are the little things that can be done that will make a big difference? how can we increase food production? etc etc etc. One of the largest ironies about development and interventions is that lots of money has been spent in the past few decades and still there are millions of people suffering. Easterly calls for more accountability and a grass-roots smaller scale approach to development. We may not be able to stop malnutrition completely, but there are ways, that are not that complicated, to improve and decrease the negative effects of malnutrition. Malnutrition holds a key place in global health. Improvement in nutrition is an automatic improvement in overall health and productivity. These basic needs must be met before other issues can be addressed with development.
I hope you have learned a few things about malnutrition from this blog and that it has made you think. There are no easy answers. Luckily, the world has the most resources it has ever had and now is the time to join the millions of others that are taking action. If you are concerned or care about this subject, learn more! Research, get involved with one of the hundreds of organizations that are out there trying to make a difference, educate others, and don’t give up. We will make a difference in the world whether we try to or not, let’s make sure that difference is for the better. Thanks for reading!